Webster Essay 1

Katelyn Webster
Essay One
March 4, 2010

Media Multitasking: Creating a False Sense of Connectedness

As I find a cozy corner in the library to write this paper, I immediately sit down, plug in my laptop, open up my browser, turn on my MP3 player, and place my phone by my side (ready for any calls or texts I may receive). As I attempt to write my paper while texting while listening to music while surfing the web, I’m a perfect example of media multitasking. More definitively, “media multitasking involves using TV, the Web, radio, telephone, print, or any other media in conjunction with another” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_multitasking). In today’s society, media multitasking is increasingly commonplace (as is the media that multitaskers are using). “High-tech jugglers are everywhere – keeping up several e-mail and instant message conversations at once, text messaging while watching television and jumping from one website to another while plowing through homework assignments” (Gorlick). Various media sources allow multitaskers to accomplish different tasks all at once. And more so, certain multimedia devices allow users to complete many tasks on a single device, such as iPhones and Blackberrys (which has received the nickname “Crackberry” due to its user’s addiction and inability to “put down their damn Blackberry” (http://www.urbandictionary.com).).

While there are many reasons to media multitask, the most important goal of multitaskers is to stay connected to friends, family, co-workers, clients, etc. Yet while media multitaskers use media to stay “connected,” they are simultaneously disconnecting themselves by creating physical barriers; for example, rather than meet at a restaurant for lunch, multitaskers meet on Skype while continuing to work on other things. This false sense of connectedness is the result of the many distractions that media multitasking creates. More so, these distractions threaten our ability to maintain physical, social relationships by creating a false sense of connectedness.

Researchers found that it is impossible for multitaskers to process more than one stream of information at one time. While the brain is superb at managing many tasks, it struggles while juggling many tasks at once. A study on the brain’s ability to multitask confirms these results. This study was led by Marcel Just, a psychology professor and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Just tested the brain’s ability to drive a car and talk on the phone simultaneously. According to Just, “it appears that the brain has limits and can only do so much at one time.” The research showed that when a single area of the brain, like the visual cortex, has to do two things at once, like tracking two objects, there is less brain activation than occurs when it watches one thing at a time. After completing the study, Just concluded that "you can't just keep piping new things through and expect the brain to keep up. With practice, the brain can become more efficient at carrying out multiple tasks, but performance is never as good as when the tasks are carried out independently.”

Additionally, in a study completed at Stanford University, results showed that multitaskers are “suckers for irrelevancy” allowing “everything [to] distract them.” Thus, as a result of media multitasking, two implications result. First, we limit the brain’s ability to process information in an efficient manner by multitasking. Second, our brain’s inability to manage multiple tasks at one time leads to more distractions caused by information overload. The combination of these two implications is disastrous on social relationships.

In 2009, social media sites boomed: Twitter grew 577%, Facebook 188.6% and LinkedIn 89% (Liss). These statistics show that communication through media sources is a growing trend. With social media sites growing, it’s important to examine the social consequences these sites impose. Most importantly, they create the loss of physical connection that “thousands of years of evolution [have] created […]facial expressions, body languagethat puts broadband to shame in its ability to convey meaning and create bonds” (Wallis). Having a texting conversation with my friends about the latest episode of Gossip Girl is not the same as hanging on the couch watching the show together. Yet this kind of communication is more convenient when I also want to be talking to my boyfriend on Facebook or finishing an assignment for class at the same time. The ability to media multitask allows for multiple social interactions concurrently, but these interactions are less intimate. Along with this, IBM has created a program (much like Skype) that holds virtual meetings: “Each person at the meeting is embodied by a different avatar, and the participants end up feeling like they've met in person, even though they're actually in upstate New York, Vermont and San Paolo, Brazil” (Havrilesky). Douglas Rushkoff, producer of Frontline’s “Digital Nation” and known internet guru, asks "whether we're tinkering with some part of ourselves that's a little bit deeper than we might realize at first. You know, how are we changing what it means to be a human being by using all this stuff?"

It is yet to be determined exactly how media multitasking will affect society in the long run. Whether it destroys normal conventions of social interactions or strengthens them will eventually be discovered. William James—renowned psychologist—suggests that “perhaps we will simply adjust and come to accept what [he] call[s] ‘acquired inattention.’ E-mails pouring in, cell phones ringing, televisions blaring, podcasts streaming—all this may become background noise, like the “din of a foundry or factory” that James observed workers could scarcely avoid at first, but which eventually became just another part of their daily routine” (Rosen).

Works Cited

Blakeslee, Sandra. “Multitasking drains brain.” New York Times News Service, 31 July 2001. 4 March 2010. <http://www.ccbi.cmu.edu/news/SanDiegoUnionTribune-dualtask.html>

“CrackBerry.” UrbanDictionary. 4 March 2010. <http://urbandictionary.com/>

Gorlick, Adam. “Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows.” 24 August 2009. 4 March 2010 <http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/august24/multitask-research-study-082409.html>

Havrilesky, Heather. “Frontline: Digital Nation” Salon Media Group, 30 January 2010. 4 March 2010 <http://www.salon.com/entertainment/tv/frontline/index.html?story=/ent/tv/iltw/2010/01/30/frontline_digital_nation>

Liss, Seth. “Social media growth in 2010 will be in mobile technology.” SunSentinel.com, 4 January 2010. 4 March 2010 <http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-01-04/news/fl-slcol-seth-social-media-growth-2010-20100104_1_social-media-mobile-technology-phones>

“Media Multitasking.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 4 March 2010. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_multitasking>.

Rosen, Christine. "The Myth of Multitasking," The New Atlantis, Number 20, Spring 2008, pp. 105-110.

Wallis, Claudia. “The Multitasking Generation.” TIME, 19 March 2006. 4 March 2010 < http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1174696-9,00.html>.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License