Perils of Multitasking


Has technology ruined children's concentration power? They seem to be studying, surfing and texting all in one go. Is this kind of multitasking any good? Shreyashi Dasgupta finds out. 

Pooja Juwatkar, a 15-year-old, studies with loud music playing in the background. Her laptop is always plugged in as she likes to browse the net while she's studying. She says, "Music helps me concentrate better, especially while doing mathematics."

Parents are finding it difficult to cope with technological trends intruding into their children's lives. Shweta Patel, a parent of a seven-year-old says, "When we were growing up we did our homework quietly without any noise. But today kids are downloading on iTunes, texting friends, surfing the web, checking their web pages - all while doing their homework."

Is this called multitasking? Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Washington and a leading researcher on children and media says, "The truth is you don't really multitask, you just think you do. The brain can't process two high-level cognitive things. What you are actually doing is oscillating between the two." Research has proven that multitasking also results in decreased productivity. As Dr. Victor Strasburger, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine says, "Kids are spending an extraordinary amount of time with media. But we don't really know what they are paying attention to."

As we conducted our research we realized that on an average children spend only two hours studying at a stretch. They need some kind of break to bring their focus and attention back, which is probably why some of them tend to work on different things together!

Pranav Mirani, a 13-year-old from Pawar Public School says, "I do play computer games in between my studies but that is because I can't concentrate for long. Listening to music or surfing helps me chill and brings my attention back to the task at hand, helping me to study for longer periods." Shreya Bhate echoes the same thought saying, "I do like to study a few subjects with my radio on, it helps me to be focused."

But, if this is not the best habit to cultivate, is there a way to control it? Gayatri Chatterjee, a teacher at Hariyana Vidya Mandir, Kolkata says, "Yes. Keep all the things that could distract you away from your circle of studies when you are studying. Divide study time into shorter time periods. In my class for example, I have to ensure that all my students switch off their mobile phones. It's amusing to see how a blinking cellphone light can distract them."

Are strict restrictions the only option then? We asked psychologist H'vovi Bhagwagar who says "Not really. Children have to be self-disciplined and put limitations on the time they are allowed for the use of gadgets. Parents have to keep a check and enforce limits especially on cellphones, Internet and i-pods during study hours." So, do you think you can multitask? Take this small test and find out for yourself. Directions: This test takes 20 minutes. Gather five of your friends and ask an adult or parent to help you with this test. Ask the adult to read out a word every two minutes. He/she needs to read out a total of 10 unrelated words over this exercise, while you and your friends are listening to your favourite track and doing your homework. Now fill the form given below.  Give yourself one point for every word remembered.

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