Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is Multitasking More Efficient?

Is Multitasking More Efficient?:

"New scientific studies reveal the hidden costs of multitasking, key findings as technology increasingly tempts people to do more than one thing (and increasingly, more than one complicated thing) at a time. "

"The researchers say their results suggest that executive control involves two distinct, complementary stages: goal shifting ("I want to do this now instead of that") and rule activation ("I'm turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this"). Both stages help people unconsciously switch between tasks."

"Rule activation itself takes significant amounts of time, several tenths of a second -- which can add up when people switch back and forth repeatedly between tasks. Thus, multitasking may seem more efficient on the surface, but may actually take more time in the end."

"Understanding executive mental control may help solve "fundamental problems," says Meyer, "associated with the design of equipment and human-computer interfaces for vehicle and aircraft operation, air traffic control, and many other activities in which people must monitor and manipulate the environment through technologically advanced devices.""

This article, and the study that goes with it, seems a bit slanted if you ask me. When I was first told about this piece a sweeping statement was made like: "Oh, kids aren't multitaskers! Ha, ha! They're wasting time... Haven't you seen the new study?" Yet the study only proves that we polychrons are wasting milliseconds... yes, "tenths of a second"... as we switch from task to task. I think the overall assumption or argument that says multitasking wastes time needs more than just milliseconds to convince me.

However, the idea that we can cut out even those few tenths of a second by better understanding our executive controls and innovating our UI now becomes even more appealing to me. I mean... isn't that the idea behind the dashboard widget and the firefox plugin? To bring the functionality of one thing to another and yet keep the same interface?

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