x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

One thing at a time

Multitasking may have been made easier by technology, but science says it's decreasing the quality of our output

In today's fast-paced, information-driven world, "multitasking" has become the default mode for many people.

At work, at school and at home, we may find ourselves surfing the internet, instant-messaging, keeping up on social media, e-mailing, watching television and answering telephone calls, all more or less at once. It's great to be so connected and up-to-the-minute.

Except that it's not. New research from Carnegie Mellon University in the US indicates that performing several tasks at once can make us less effective at each of them.

The human brain, it turns out, is designed to handle one high-level cognitive task at a time. If you try to do two independent tasks at once, brain activity does not double; it decreases. Accuracy does not decline, the researchers found, but mental speed does.

Multitasking seems to help us accomplish a lot in a short time, and our modern software and hardware have certainly improved productivity - if that's the right word for knowing what your friends had for lunch.

In a study or work environment, however, where productivity truly matters, concentration pays. In communication, as in so much else, quality can be at least as important as quantity.