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Can you do more than one thing at a time? Can you listen and type; can you talk and text; can you eat and work; can you be polite and still pay attention to your screen?

Well, if this picture is anything to go by, it seems that even members of the British parliament can govern their country and still give their full concentration to their cellphones.

Your teachers have probably sat through staff meetings where other teachers have barely looked up from their screens – emailing, working on other documents, reading the news – while their colleagues make important points about how the school should be run. Is this the same in class?

What if your teacher allows you to listen to music while you work? Or you can have your phone on your desk in case you need to include a photo in your topic work, or film a clip for a movie project you’re working on – or just so you can send a sneaky text to a friend… Can you concentrate on your work, can you be collaborative without being distracted by your devices?

It’s hard to tell if texting, typing, tapping on a keyboard, checking emails or social media, is rudeness or whether it’s multi-tasking. Many people claim that they’re able to multi-task – that is doing two or more things well all at the same time – without any trouble at all. But science is against them.

Plenty of scientific studies have shown that multi-tasking is impossible: our brains, according to countless scans and tests, show that when someone is trying to do two or more things at once the brain keeps switching between the tasks, energy is lost, and none of the tasks are done as efficiently or effectively as when tasks are completed one after the other.

In other words, if – like the politicians in the picture – you’re texting and trying to listen to a conversation you’ll not be able to do both. Instead, you’ll just come across as rude because you’ll pay more attention to your device than you will to what the other person is saying.

On a side, but related, note. Scientists think that human brains are rewiring themselves because our reliance on electronic devices is giving us all short attention spans – making it even harder to concentrate on more than one task at a time.

Maybe I’ll write about that next week. Unless I get distracted…

By Ben Egerton.

This is an opinion article, designed to promote critical discussion amongst your students:

Critical Thinking Challenges:

1. Can you talk and concentrate on your device at the same time?
2. Do you consider it rude if someone you’re talking to is looking at their screen?
3. Are you able to multi-task? Do you think the scientists are right or wrong?
4. Do you find that you’re unable to manage without some screen time during the day?

Practical Task:

Try your own multi-tasking scientific study. For each , conduct three tests: test one, ask your subject (the person you’re testing) to do the first thing and count or time it; test two, ask your subject to do the second thing and count or time it; test three, do both test one and test two at the same time.

For example: skipping and backwards alphabet speaking

Task one: count how many skips a person can do in a minute – and how many mistakes.
Task two: ask your subject to say the alphabet backwards
Task three: ask your subject to say the alphabet backwards whilst skipping

Compare the different tasks. What are the results?

Think up – and try out – different tests of your own. Perhaps you can think of some that involve technology and the five senses: e.g. how well can people hear, smell, see when they are engaged in playing a video game.


Have Your Say:

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