Simulfactotem

Group Members

1) Meghana Madhavan, mmadhavan@luc.edu

2) Vinod Punyani, vpunyani@luc.edu

3) Katya Seitz, kseitz1@luc.edu

Primary form of communication: Facebook Group Messaging

The focus of this group is the controversial issue of a human’s capacity for simulfactotem which is Latin for focusing on many tasks at once. Our media project will revolve around our position on multitasking. We will creatively portray this position from the perspective of college students.

We plan on producing a video using Camtasia, which allows us to record our screens and webcams. We want to dramatize new media use, specifically on the college level. We plan on showing multitasking, how college students interact, and demonstrate the effects of new media on not only college life – both academically and socially, but also us as people.

In terms of scheduling, we plan on taking at least one week to produce a list of forms of new media used by college students on a daily basis, another week to produce a script for our dramatization, and another week for a first “draft” of the video.


Modern Effects of Multitasking

Final Statement

Modern digital culture often brings to question whether technology, in reality, helps and improves society, or is an impediment to its flourishment. Technology has been rapidly evolving in the past couple of decades but the human brain may not be. An important aspect of this is that technological devices have become increasingly multifunctional. But while these devices are capable of doing everything at once, can the human brain do the same?  For example, your iPhone may be able to play music, run an internet browser, and receive text messages all at the same time. It is tempting to say that you are interacting with this media in the same way your phone is. But are you really enjoying the music, texting your friends, and browsing the internet simultaneously? More likely, your attention is switching rapidly from one thing to another. The human brain can’t meaningfully perform two tasks at once. You are only truly focusing on one thing at a time, the rest falls into the background. We can’t expect our minds to work in the same way that a computer does. If it did, we would not be having meaningful thoughts, just performing functions mindlessly. But the range of options new media gives us can be tempting. We may intrinsically even prefer to challenge our own limitations. A new and more exciting task is just a few clicks away. We do not have to choose between watching tv or going on Facebook. This ultimately makes it more difficult for us to focus on one task instead of switching between multiple ones. Instead of meaningfully performing one task, we give short bursts of our attention to a number of different things. This can lead to ineffective communication, personal conflict, poor quality of work, and even stress and fatigue. Our artifact attempts to showcase the modern phenomenon of multitasking and its damaging effects in a dramatized manner.

The envisioned scenario first involved a feeling of isolation, incompetency, and perhaps even a sense of functioning ineffectively. The focus turns towards a screen, fingers following nimbly across the keys. As the screen fills with windows, the mind bounces from action to action. To replicate modern computational multitasking and define its effects, we wanted a first-person point of view. With programs QuickTime and Camtasia, front facing cameras recorded facial expressions and reactions while the built-in screen recording function captured on-screen activity. Not only did the programs grant the capability of following a person’s route during a dramatized internet session, they allowed viewers to step into the perspective of a college-aged multitasker.

A video is not only entertaining, but also multi-faceted – it visualizes and brings to life ideas captured through words alone. Through the first-person video, viewers experience a sense of urgency, especially as the video speeds up to recreate this feeling. A video is entirely controllable, granting flexibility with how we portrayed the issue of multitasking.

Moreover, a video allowed for the presence of a backstory – the project the students in the video had to complete together. Through a video, viewers are able to glance at attempts at teamwork and efficiency, and the role multitasking plays in impeding actual work from getting done. The conversations uniquely displayed through just facebook chats are symbolically representing a reliance on social media to maintain conversations on important topics, transforming a formal topic on occasion into an informal one.

Through a first-person video medium, viewers are able to see multitasking from a unique perspective, stepping into the shoes of a college student attempting to balance leisure and schoolwork in a digital world. In an entertaining and unique fashion, the computer screen-focused video painted a canvas of contemporary multitasking styles and its multifaceted character.

The video also dramatizes the effects of multitasking, which are an issue today because of our increasing use of multitasking, the negative outcomes it can potentially cause many people, and the increasing worry of the population because of these potential negatives. Multiple experts have supported the theory that multitasking is causing a shrinking attention span and a shrinking capability for thought.

According to a 2012 Pew Research survey of 1,021 technology experts and critics, many professionals share a concern for the future of multitasking and the technological environment.  “These experts predicted that the impact of networked living on today’s young will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices, and lack patience…A notable number expressed concerns that trends are leading to a future in which most people are shallow consumers of information, and some mentioned George Orwell’s 1984 or expressed their fears of control by powerful interests in an age of entertaining distractions” (Anderson and Rainie 2012 article 2). Experts fear a future where the hyperactive trends we see today cause us to be consumed with distractions and under-think in our daily lives…a future where we lose depth and patience.

The increasing concern regarding the potential effects of multitasking are clearly illustrated in another Pew Research survey. Respondents of the survey were asked to pick and explain how this hyper connected and hyper active tech world we live in today would look like for youth in 2020. According to Pew Research, of 1,021 respondents, 42% said that they see a future where we do not retain information; we spend most of our energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge…we lack deep thinking capabilities and face-to-face social skills (Anderson and Rainie 2012 Article 1). According to Pew Research, “a number of the… respondents who are young people in the under-35 age group—the central focus of this research question—shared concerns about changes in human attention and depth of discourse among those who spend most or all of their waking hours under the influence of hyperconnectivity” (Anderson and Rainie 2012 Article 1)

Multitasking has become especially popular within our generation. In fact, one study at the University of Utah found that 70% of participants believed they were above average at multitasking. (Strayer). You may find people listening to music while texting on their cellular device and driving all at the same time. Or you may find someone watching television while having a conversation on their telephone. In this day and age it is very uncommon for someone to solely focus on one action at a time. Our video gives specific insight on what multitasking typically looks like among college students in our generation. Due to its potential consequences, as highlighted in the video, we believe that the act of multitasking is becoming a major problem.

One harmful outcome of our attempts to multitask could be damaging our personal relationships. Communication is important in maintaining positive relationships with anyone, whether it be a friend, significant other, or family members. And technology has greatly changed the ways in which we communicate with these people. In some ways, it has made communication a lot easier. You have a multitude of channels through which you can talk to someone. iMessage, Facebook chat, Skype, and Twitter are just a few examples. But again, the multitude of channels available offers more incentive to multitask. You can have conversations with a number of people on a number of platforms at the same time. But when you do this, you are decreasing the quality of interaction you are having with each person. You take longer to respond to each person, you are thinking of another conversation as you type, you only skim what each person writes. This can create tension and disconnection when someone does not feel they are being listened to. If you care about someone and the conversation you are having, you would give your full attention to it. We all have had the experience of talking to someone who is busy looking at their phone. It has probably resulted in countless fights for couples.  Incorrect or misleading information can be easily spread and things can be misinterpreted. As seen in our video, our attempts to multitask between webpages and conversations can also make schoolwork more difficult to focus on when it is impossible to disconnect from a conversation with someone. In the past, if you were at the library, all you had to focus on was your work. Now with your cellphone and laptop right in front of you, you are never really alone with your work. Being disconnected from social circles for a short period of time can be good for your focus and academic work. But today, that has become more and more impossible.

In fact, multitasking can have a range of negative effects on your academic and work life. In our video, our project took all night to complete. This is because we were only accomplishing a small amount of work over a period of time, as we were busy doing other things. Finishing one slide took us ages, because we kept stopping our work to text or look at Buzzfeed, for example. This shows that unlike what we thought, we were not actually multitasking. We were just switching between different tasks. We weren’t accomplishing two things at once, we were switching between tasks and taking twice as long to do them. Our brains weren’t staying focused on one thing and had to keep re-adjusting to the new task. Our attempts to multitask were actually costing us productivity. It raises the question of how much more we could be getting done if we just stopped trying to do everything at once. Some researchers suggest that “… even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.” (Rubinstein). This is hardly a small or insignificant percentage. Considering how much of our generation multitasks, the total productivity and work which we are losing each day could be extremely harmful to all of us. Would you want tomorrow’s doctors and scientists having 40% less productive time than their predecessors? This issue is important on both an individual and societal level.

Another possible outcome of multitasking is that people’s attention spans might be getting worse. This is because they are focusing on too many things at once. They aren’t able to give their full attention to one thing for an extended period of time. Having so many distractions available to them could ultimately be making people more easily distracted. It no longer feels normal or natural for us to focus on one task and nothing else. We begin to feel restless and bored when we have to do this. So we pull out our phone or switch to another task. Our fast paced technological world means that there is always something more interesting we could be looking at. Not only does modern technology make it easier for us to multitask, it also could be making it harder for us not to.

When we multitask, we also end up feeling pressured and rushed to complete a certain task. Since we are not focused solely on one thing, we might be pressured to finish a task in a time frame that is more than likely impossible. This may also affect the time to complete more important tasks and prioritize. The result of this is ultimately fatigue and stress. More and more people are trying to do multiple things at once which can make them feel overwhelmed and anxious. When we believe that we should be multitasking, we may tend to push ourselves to try to do too much, leading to burnout and exhaustion. This fatigue then causes the quality of work to decrease even more, feeding into a vicious cycle.

Overall, if we are able to cut back on multitasking in our everyday lives we would actually find ourselves being more productive and healthy. We would be able to focus on what really needs to be done and the result would show in better work. There would also be a decrease in fatigue and stress because we are not being rushed or pressured to finish tasks that we have been putting off. We would learn to listen to people and give them our full attention and respect, which would ultimately help everyone to get along better. We can cut down our multitasking in small but important ways. Turning off your internet connection while doing homework, putting away your phone during dinner, and just reading a book start to finish are a few examples. Multitasking (and digital culture in general) has a tendency to prioritize the quantity and speed of things being done over their respective qualities. We need to recognize that although technology is multifunctional, we as humans may be better off not keeping up with it. When we do not try to do everything at once, we end up having more meaningful interactions, more thoughtful work, and ultimately a more fulfilling life.

Resources

Burak, Lydia. “Multitasking in the university classroom.” International Journal for the scholarship of teaching and learning 6.2 (2012): 8.

Kraushaar, James M., and David C. Novak. “Examining the Affects of Student Multitasking with Laptops during the Lecture.” Journal of Information Systems Education 21.2 (2010): 241-251.

Rainie, L., & Anderson, J. (2012, February 29). Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their  hyperconnected lives. Retrieved November, 2014, from Pew Research website:http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/02/29/ millennials-will-benefit-and-suffer-due-to-their-hyperconnected-lives/

Rainie, L., & Anderson, J. (2012, February 29). Main findings: Teens, technology, and human potential in 2020. Retrieved November, 2014, from Pew Research website:http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/02/29/ millennials-will-benefit-and-suffer-due-to-their-hyperconnected-lives/

Rubinstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E. & Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27, 763-797. Web. American Psychological Association. 2006.

Strayer, David. Frequent Multitaskers Are Bad At It. U News Center. University of Utah. January 23, 2013. Web.

Wallis, Claudia. “The multitasking generation.” Time Magazine 167.13 (2006): 48-55.

Additional Readings

The following resources provide an in-depth report on research done about multitasking, specifically on students at contemporary universities.

Lydia Burak’s Multitasking in the University Classroom explores the relationship between known multitasking behaviors occurring in classrooms and risk behaviors.

James Kraushaar and David Novak’s Examining the Affects of Student Multitasking with Laptops during the Lecture differentiates multitasking during classroom activities by “productive” (course-related) and “distractive” (non course-related) tasks.

Claudia Wallis’ The Multitasking Generation in Time magazine explores the effects of youth multitasking on brain activity and family life.

Artifact

The following video is a dramatization in the first-person point of view, exploring the effects of multitasking on a modern campus. It visually portrays a group of college students struggling to complete a presentation last minute, and explores personal struggles as each student multitasks differently. As you watch, keep an eye out for:

1) The multi-faceted property of multitasking, as distractions appear in a variety of forms throughout the video

2) Facial expressions as we explore the internet and collaborate

3) The amount of time we spend on each activity

4) How much work is being done on the presentation we are assigned

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