When Multitasking is Not a Good Idea
This is a guest post by my friend Andy Naselli. Andy is research manager for DA Carson and editor of the online theological journal Themelios. He has two (!) PhDs and blogs at andynaselli.com, which I highly recommend.
From Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 113, 117–18:
During a time of singing at a recent conference, I spotted a woman raising one hand in worship while sending a text message with the other one. We mix worship with our work and pleasure. Why are we surprised when we can only give partial attention to any one of them? . . .
One way we pursue the virtue of efficiency is by becoming multitaskers. If we are driven by efficiency, it is not enough that we work quickly; we must also work on many things simultaneously. Imitating our computers, we seek to switch seamlessly from one task to the next, from one priority to another. At our desks we work on our projects while chatting on instant messengers, sending off text messages, and glancing at our favorite blogs. Even in our entertainment we want to be able to do many things at once—to be able to watch television while sending a text message and checking in on our friends’ Facebook pages.
A rash of recent studies shows that multitasking is not a solution. In fact, studies show that multitasking is actually a misnomer. While we think we are multitasking, we are actually task switching, doing a little bit of one thing and then doing a little bit of another. Our brains just won’t allow us to perform two complex operations at the same time with the same skill. Quality necessarily suffers, as does depth. Not only that, but multitasking is not even very efficient. David E. Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, found that “people who switch back and forth between two tasks, like exchanging e-mail and writing a report, may spend 50 percent more time on those tasks than if they work on them separately, completing one before starting the other.”
Meanwhile, if we surround ourselves by too many stimuli, we force our brains into a state of continuous partial attention, a state in which we keep tabs on everything without giving focused attention to anything. . . .
Whether through multitasking or through monitoring so many sources of input that we remain in continuous partial attention, we lose the ability to think in a sustained way. . . .
This is as true in worship as it is in the workplace. Efficiency is a dangerous mind-set to bring to our faith. We do not want to be efficient worshipers, driven by a desire to get more of God in a shorter amount of time. We do not want to be hurried worshipers who value speed over quality.