Media Multitasking or Multi-Distracting?

I just finished readying the article Media Multitasking Is Really Multi-Distracting on the Science Daily website. I’m not really sure if I agree with the distracting part of the story. As I write this I am watching tv and working on my computer.

Multitaskers who think they can successfully divide their attention between the program on their television set and the information on their computer screen proved to be driven to distraction by the two devices, according to a new study of media multitasking by Boston College researchers.

Placed in a room containing a television and a computer and given a half hour to use either device, people on average switched their eyes back and forth between TV and computer a staggering 120 times in 27.5 minutes — or nearly once every 14 seconds, Carroll School of Management professors S. Adam Brasel and James Gips report in a forthcoming edition of the journalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

This makes sense. If you’re truly using both, then you are switching back and forth. Here’s another quote I’m not sure about.

Brasel and Gips determined that when it comes to the dominant medium in this side-by-side challenge, the computer comes out the winner, drawing the attention of the study participants 68.4 percent of the time. But neither device proved capable of holding the attention of study participants for very long, regardless of their age. The median length of gaze lasted less than two seconds for television and less than six seconds for the computer, the researchers found. It’s not just younger people who are rapid-fire switching between media; men and women over 40 who participated in the study still switched an average of nearly 100 times in 27.5 minutes. It was rare that a person looked at either screen for more than a minute. Just 7.5 percent of all computer gazes and 2.9 percent of all glances at the television lasted longer than 60 seconds, the study found.

These findings makes complete sense. How long does it take to load a website page? Long enough to look up at the television. If you are waiting, you glance up. People use the television like the radio was used in the 1940s. It’s there to listen to, we don’t stare at it anymore like we did 10 years ago. Also, the article that I’m referring to took about a minute (or less) for me to read. So why would the website need to hold my attention for more than a minute before glancing up again?

I agree with the study and their findings, but I don’t agree with their thoughts. Now, if they were not talking about websites and that people are actually working on a paper or school work exclusively, then I could agree with the distractions. Also, what do people do when online? Check this out.

I feel that most stories online are built to know that if it goes for too long, people will stop reading. Just like a blog, if it’s boring or too long (I hope I’m not getting too long here) than people will move on. Is that a distraction between television and a computer? No, that’s a boredom or attention issue that we as humans have built within ourselves.

I first noticed it a few years ago, and more so now. When people are listening to music on their computer or iPod, do they listen to the whole song before moving to the next one? I think that most of the time, the answer is no.

Humans are building an attention problem and thinking that we constantly need to be entertained. This article touches on a piece of it, but I don’t agree that it is distracting. I learn many things from online and the television. How many people were sitting in front of the television and looking at Twitter on May 1? I’m sure many eyes were jumping back and forth and were not distracted. Everyone was sharing and talking about what was going on.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree with me or think that I’m way off?

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About Anthony Purcell

I am Anthony Purcell and I am currently teaching math in Oklahoma.
This entry was posted in Adjustments, Data Gathering, Social Networking, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Media Multitasking or Multi-Distracting?

  1. Nigel says:

    “. . .most stories online are built to know that if it goes for too long, people will stop reading. Just like a blog, if it’s boring or too long (I hope I’m not getting too long here) than [sic] people will move on.”

    This saddens me. Many people seemingly have no capacity to read anything longer than a very short blog post; more than about 250 words (about 1 page of double-spaced text) and people begin to tune-out, even without the distraction of television. Can any meaningful ideas really be expressed, much less explored, in less than a page? Can even simple ideas be comprehended when one is reading a website in chunks of time that are on average less than 10 seconds long? If the evidence is laid out I think the answer to both of these questions will be a resounding “no” and your own blog posting serves as just that evidence.

    You wrote “[h]ow long does it take to load a website page? Long enough to look up at the television. If you are waiting, you glance up.” Yet the paper clearly states that although people think that this is how they interact with the web when watching TV, the empirical data suggests otherwise. So even in a short article that is fairly straight-forward and requires no serious thinking to comprehend, you missed a very important finding that the authors were making. My guess is that you were multi-tasking (and hence distracted) when you were reading this article.

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