One at a time please

Check e-mail. Facebook. Read the paper. Tweet. Check voicemail. And all of that while watching TV.  We are increasingly becoming defined by connectivity.  Work and home life mingle as a result. Multi-tasking extends now into most of modern life.

Is that what we really want? Well, many people tell me that multi-tasking makes them more productive. Increasingly, scientists disagree. Even after the multi-tasking ends, Stanford University research shows fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.

“Nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment,” says Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco.

“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

I see consequences in my own life. Only ten years ago I would read a novel a fortnight. Now I fill most of my reading hours with browser behaviour – the sort of material I can consume in seconds: Twitter, news alerts, blogs, e-mail.

Last summer Emily Yoffe convinced me in an article in Slate, drawing on more than 50 years of psychology experiments, to conclude that the internet feeds the “seeking” part of our brains, flooding them with dopamine, but never accessing the opioids to deliver pleasure to the brain.

Other research underlines that people interrupted by e-mail report increased stress compared to those left to focus.

Whether it’s reading a novel for pleasure, concentrating utterly on a work task or even just spending time just on a conversation with the children, it may be time to ask whether, for all our connectivity keeping us plugged in to what’s going on, we might do better to concentrate on the task in hand. For our own sake, one task at a time please.