First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

“Just One Thing at a Time” – More on the Myth of Multitasking (reflecting on Cathy Davidson, Now You See It)

Cathy Davidson loves, loves, loves everything digital.  “She likes anything that departs from the customary way of doing things, especially the customary way of educating children.”  Her new book is Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.  She leads an interdisciplinary program at Duke.

But Annie Murphy Paul pretty much rejects everything about her view and approach in her Slate.com article:  Who’s Afraid of Digital Natives? – Let’s not get intimidated by kids and their Internet savvy.  She especially rejects Davidson’s fascination with the idea that the digital age is teaching us how to multitask.  Here are brief excerpts from the article:

Her position ignores the inflexible and near-universal limits on our working memory, which allow us to hold only a few items of information in our consciousness at a time, or the work of researchers like Clifford Nass of Stanford University. “Human cognition is ill-suited both for attending to multiple input streams and for simultaneously performing multiple tasks,” Nass has written. In other words, people are inherently lousy at multitasking. Contrary to the notion that those who’ve grown up multitasking a lot have learned to do it well, Nass’s research has found that heavy multitaskers are actually less effective at filtering out irrelevant information and at shifting their attention among tasks than others.
…focusing one’s attention, gathering and synthesizing evidence, and constructing a coherent argument are skills as necessary as they were before—in fact, more necessary than ever, given the swamp of baseless assertion and outright falsehood that is much of the Web. Some day not too far in the future, the digital natives may find themselves turning down the music, shutting off the flickering screen, silencing the buzzing phone and sitting down to do just one thing at a time.

“Just one thing at a time.”  In Rework, Fried and Hannson write about the value of the  “alone zone.”

You should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

Here’s what I know.  When I close my e-mail program, close Safari, put on just the right kind of soft/truly quiet background music, open a book, and dig in, with no interruptions, I seem to “get” the book better.

Here’s what I have come to think – at least about myself.  I really can’t do two things at once.  I just can’t.

But, I could be wrong.  For a more positive/objective take on Davidson and her new book, check out The Science of Attention Spans by Casey Schwartz at The Daily Beast/Book Beast.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is The Internet Making Us Stupid? – Maybe We’re Just Not All That Bright To Begin With!

We’re getting our wisdom in shorter and shorter bites/bytes these days.  Everywhere we look, we want the short read, not the long read.  And it is the long read that makes us stop and think and ponder and maybe make more substantial change, and progress.

But there is so much to read!

Well, here is a long-read to set aside for a slightly longer chunk of time this week.  It is THE INFORMATION: How the Internet gets inside us by Adam Gopnik from the New Yorker.  Here are some excerpts:

Our trouble is not the over-all absence of smartness but the intractable power of pure stupidity, and no machine, or mind, seems extended enough to cure that.

But if reading a lot of novels gave you exceptional empathy university English departments should be filled with the most compassionate and generous-minded of souls, and, so far, they are not.

In the period when many of the big, classic books that we no longer have time to read were being written, the general complaint was that there wasn’t enough time to read big, classic books.

Yet everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly.

Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those.

In the article, Gopnik says that all of the books that argue (he refers to a series of books) that the internet is ruining our ability to think and function are repeating old arguments that were made against the printing press, and television.

I commend the article – it will help you think about how we think, and ponder, and reflect…

 

Monday, February 14, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , | Leave a comment

Singletask, Don’t Multitask – The Jury Really is In!

As I have observed many times, there are themes that crop in multiple books.  And when this happens, I think they hint at true truth.  That is, the kind of truth that is genuinely important, something to pay a lot of attention to.

Here’s one that was reemphasized again this morning.  My colleague Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of The Way We’re Working isn’t Working, the new book by Tony Schwartz.  And the book, with lots of really useful counsel, says this about our multitasking world:

The most surprising drawback of multitasking is the growing evidence that it isn’t even efficient…  Once we’re distracted by something new, we often forget about the original task…  The ultimate consequence of juggling many tasks is not superficiality but rather overload.

There are so many books and articles that are making this point in one way or another.  The point is this:

MULTITASKING DOES NOT WORK!

Singletasking is the need of the hour, not multitasking.

Here are some other quotes to reinforce this now seemingly everywhere-present theme:

From ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson:
Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

From The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp:
The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently.  You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently.  You’re compromising your virtuosity.  In the worlds of T. S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”

From Superfreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner:
A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen.  If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.

I think the jury is in.  Learn to singletask, really well.  Work with depth and attention and focus on one-thing-at-a-time.

You can leave the multitasking to those who will be left behind by their lack of focus.

Friday, October 1, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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