5 November 2009 • 7:00 am

On Multitasking

Board-spinning-platesA brief Talk of the Town piece by Nick Paumgarten in this week’s New Yorker has finally shaken me out of my lengthy unplanned hiatus from the Tenacious Blog (a combination of an early October speaking gig followed by an extended trip to my alternative universe in the tropics had conspired to keep me from writing for several weeks now). For those of you who have waited patiently for my return, much gratitude for your loyalty. I’ll be trying to write regularly again, but am making no promises.

The New Yorker piece begins with a recollection of the news item from a few weeks ago, in which two Northwest Airlines pilots overshot their destination (Minneapolis) by over a hundred miles (the pilots claim they were engrossed in a complex work scheduling program on their laptop computers), then goes on to comment on the effect of multi-tasking on our performance. According to Paumgarten:

Studies have shown that multitasking, even of the law-abiding kind, doesn’t work. You just perform each task less efficiently. Marshall McLuhan predicted that technology would sharpen our senses, but, instead, as the writer Michael Bugeja said last week, it seems to split them. (A few years ago, Bugeja, with a colleague, started writing an article called “Media Saturation Kills,” but he got distracted by another deadline and never finished it.)