This Is a Test; Can You Read This Entire Post without Multitasking?

A colleague at work posted an article from the New York Times that looked at whether faculty should allow students to bring their laptops into the classroom.

The author , Darren Rosenblum, a law professor at Pace University, claims that “laptops at best reduce education to the clackety-clack of transcribing lectures on shiny screens and, at worst, provide students with a constant escape from whatever is hard, challenging or uncomfortable about learning.”

subliminal message – keep reading; you can wait two more minutes before responding to that text message

He goes on to note that “Focus is crucial, and we do best when monotasking: Even disruptions of a few seconds can derail one’s train of thought… One study found that laptops or tablets consistently undermine exam performance by 1.7 percent. Other studies reveal that writing by hand helps memory retention. Screens block us from connecting, whether at dinner or in a classroom.”

The article also referenced another fascinating NYT article titled, “Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)” (yes, I kind of stole the title, and the image above, from that story).

subliminal message – keep reading, you are doing well; no need to check your email this instant

Written by Verena von Pfetten, this article looked at one research study that basically concluded that by trying to do more (multitasking) you’re getting less done.

Another study found that neural resources are depleted every time we switch between tasks, which, especially for those who work online, can happen upward of 400 times a day.

One person noted that “If I keep looking at my phone or my inbox or various websites, working feels a lot more tortuous. When I’m focused and making progress, work is actually pleasurable.”

subliminal message – you’re checking Pinterest – are you kidding me?

Another study found that just having a phone on the table is sufficiently distracting to reduce empathy and rapport between two people who are in conversation.

I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of all the things noted above (well maybe not the Pinterest thing), and most times I’m conscious of the fact that I’m not fully present in the moment like I should be, but it is still hard to avoid.

subliminal message – you haven’t missed anything on TV; besides, you can always use the rewind button

The researchers offered some suggestions on how to build on your ability to monotask:

  • Start by giving yourself just one morning a week to check in, and remind yourself what it feels like to do one thing at a time
  • Exercise without listening to music or anything else (OK, I can do this one)
  • Practice how you listen to people; put down anything that’s in your hands and turn all of your attention to the person who is talking. You should be looking at them, listening to them, and your body should be turned to them.

I found it interesting that the same week that I was reading these stories from the Times about the distractions associated with technology, one of my friends posted the following messages on Facebook:

As a New Year intention I will be going off Facebook for a minimum of 3 months starting tomorrow. It will be an interesting experiment in my love/hate relationship with social media. I will miss all of your great photos! I will not be on Messenger.

I need time to focus, think and work these days and I find that social media, as much as I care about each of you, can distract me. Peace to all. I will see you in the spring.

I wish her the best, and I am sure that she will find the time to focus, think, and work as a result of signing off from social media for a bit.

As for my thoughts on all of this:

First, I let my students bring their laptops to class. I tell them that it’s my job to make the class interesting and engaging, and if I can see that they are surfing the web (you can always tell), then I know I need to up my game.

Second, I know that I am guilty of being constantly distracted by technology (and other things; for example, I’ve been eating way too many pretzels while writing this blog).

I’m hoping that being aware of the problem is the first step in fixing the problem. I know there are technology tools that can help limit your time on social media, but I have been hesitant to adopt them, but I’m not really sure why I am hesitant.

Anyway, I can’t completely go off of Facebook, how else could I share my posts with my thousands of readers, hundreds, my wife and three sons?

final subliminal message – congrats if you made it this far; now all you need to do is fill in your email address on the left and then click on the subscribe button; you’ll never have to go to Facebook again to get my next post. Think how much more productive you will be… 



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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

8 thoughts on “This Is a Test; Can You Read This Entire Post without Multitasking?”

  1. Great post. I’m definitely a believer that the ability to focus and monotask will be a rare and highly valuable skill in the future.



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