Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Multitasking is a myth" declares author of new book on the science of concentration

Multitasking Yup, it's official - students can't buy shoes, "text" friends, do their taxes and learn the Rule Against Perpetuities at the same time.  At least according to this new book by author Winifred Gallagher called "Rapt:  Attention and the Focused Life" which is reviewed in today's NYT.

'Multitasking is a myth,' Ms. Gallagher said. 'You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.' [Gallagher] points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.

'People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,' she said. 'Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.'

Concentration, it turns out, involves a lot of hard work to thwart the brain's natural tendency to become distracted by whatever "bright or novel" stimulus flashes in front of the 'ol retinas, so to speak.  

'It takes a lot of your prefrontal brain power to force yourself not to process a strong input like a television commercial,' said Dr. Desimone, the director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at M.I.T. 'If you’re trying to read a book at the same time, you may not have the resources left to focus on the words.'

Interestingly, the solution to achieving better concentration may one day be found in light pulse therapy.  Until then, meditation seems to works fine according to Ms. Gallagher.

So, can we finally declare "multitasking" an urban myth just like Y2K and alligators in the NYC sewers?

I am the scholarship dude.

(jbl)

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