I was just told that students who multitask during lectures perform up to a whole letter grade poorer than their fellow students. Whether this is true or not, I’m pretty sure humans cannot concentrate fully on two things at the same time, our focus is split and our attention jumps back and forth.
In certain situations it certainly is worth while devoting your full attention to whatever you are doing. The students who want to perform well should preferably pay attention to the lecturer rather than their laptops or mobiles. The same is true for our jobs, the result is often better if the person doing the job is paying attention to it. Whether it be writing, cooking or taking care of sick people.
An interesting question is how the multitasking affects our media consumption. There are studies on this as well. The consumption certainly is becoming more and more fragmented which puts pressure on the media companies to produce content that succeeds in keeping the attention of the audience.
I have to admit that almost every time I sit down on the sofa I bring my iPad along. Because most of the TV shows are boring. So why not Facebook or read emails at the same time? At least I fool myself into believing I am more efficient this way. Still I was shocked when a TV strategist told me that the attention span of the TV audience of today is six minutes. Six minutes! Every six minutes something really interesting should happen on the screen or people zap away (or turn to their iPads). It is just crazy. How can we expect to relax or to learn something if our attention span is that short? At least I know I most often feel more stressed than relaxed after an hour of simultaneous usage of TV and FB. It’s a bit like eating a large bag of candy – it feels like a good idea at the beginning, but when it’s done you swear never to do it again. Until next time.
But there is at least one upside to surfing the web while watching TV. When you watch a TV show, you can easily enrich the experience by reading more on the topic at hand online. And this has become so much easier with the iPad. If I watch an old movie on TV I tend to look up the actors and the reception the movie got when it was released, who composed the music, which other films the actors have been involved in etc etc. You learn a lot! Take Vanilla Sky as an example, I had no idea that the name referred to the skies depicted by Monet until I read about it on Wikipedia.
I especially love enriching documentaries. The Finnish broadcasting company YLE just showed the four-part documentary Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World. A fantastic scenery and interesting people! I watched this together with my iPad, looked up the places Connolly visited on Google Maps, read about the inuits and about Pond Inlet, a place I didn’t know existed.
Simultaneous usage of media in a way that enriches the experience gives you so much more than only watching the documentary. At the same time you have to be careful not to overdo it. It is quite easy to get carried away and forget all about the documentary or film you thought you were watching. Maybe we do need some twist to the story telling every six minutes to stay focused?
Oh yes, I almost forgot, The Road to Nowhere: