I can do no better than to quote from the show (and website) the words of clinical psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who has studied the phenomenon of doing more than one (or two or three or four) things at once, as is seen so often among today’s students and younger workforce:
“I teach the most brilliant students in the world,” says Turkle, “but they have done themselves a disservice by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes. There are just some things that are not amenable to being thought about in conjunction with 15 other things.”
Award-winning Frontline producer Rachel Dretzin learned this firsthand by taking a few tests of her own given by Stanford professor Clifford Nass. “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests they’re worse at analytic reasoning,” Nass tells Dretzin. “We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.”
The challenge for teachers and employers alike, particularly in the technology arena, seems to be keeping students engaged and interactive, while at the same time teaching them how to think critically and strategically and deeply.
As one student confessed: “Honestly, I can’t sit somewhere for two hours straight and focus on anything. Maybe it’s some technology dependence I’ve developed over the course of the years, but at this point I don’t think I can go back to just focusing on one thing.”
So… Put down the iPod, the Blackberry, the iPhone, the Facebook, the Twitter… and just back slowly away.
If you can.