Friday, November 08, 2013

SF Chronicle Must Read - Multitasking & Clifford Nass

The article below is something all users of technology should stop and read. It only takes a few minutes of your multi-tasked day. It may not change the way you do things, but it will at least give you a better understanding of how a culture without today's technology was able to thrive in communication, manufacturing products and complex ideas of thought.  Imagine what went into producing relevant, products 30 years ago.  That was back when shoe companies focused on making shoes and not jumping into whatever market was currently hot to make a buck.

There was a time when slower, durable products that provided one function with precision were considered top line state of the art devices. It was then the same with people and their skills; a person with years of experience in one field could be considered an expert in that field. Today, many experts are labeled shortsighted, working in a box and out of touch with today's needs.  And should an old expert try explaining his innovative ideas and discoveries to those driving today's product needs, I believe it would require less detailed communications, increased editing and dumbing down of information in order for the "shakers and movers" of today to fit the information into their window of focus.

The vision of the innovator would most likely be lost to due to insufficient time to grasp his/her vision. Unfortunately, today's main focus is how much and how fast. Yesterday's experts have been downsized, phased out and outsourced to shoe companies in Foreign Countries with contracts to provide technical customer support to sucker consumers who fell for the marketing. A distracted, impatient, captured consumer.  Now isn't that innovation!

Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.

But enough of what I think, here's what a great sociologist and thinker who passed away this week thought.

Clifford Nass, who put the lie to multitasking, dies at 55

Clifford Nass (Stanford News Service)
I’ll be blunt: You may think you’re great at multitasking, but odds are you suck at it. That’s the conclusion of groundbreaking research by Stanford professor Clifford Nass, who died Saturday of a heart attack.
Nass, who was 55, authored a 2009 study that found most people are terrible multitaskers, even though they think they’re really good at it. According to this New York Times obit, Nass set out to pinpoint the talents inherent in people who use technology to do a lot of things at once.
However, his results showed something very different:
. . . He and his colleagues presumed that people who frequently juggle computer, phone or television screens, or just different applications, would display some special skill at ignoring irrelevant information, or efficiently switching between tasks, or that they would prove to have a particularly orderly memory.
“We all bet high multitaskers were going to be stars at something,” he said in an interview with the PBS program “Frontline” after the paper he and his colleagues wrote, “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers,” was published in 2009.
“We were absolutely shocked,” he said. “We all lost our bets. It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.”
He added, “One would think that if people were bad at multitasking, they would stop. However, when we talk with the multitaskers, they seem to think they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more.”
Although Nass initially studied math, his focus shifted to communication. He spent 25 years researching how humans interact with computers. He determined that, ultimately, people have a very social relationship with their machines. They don’t just see them as simple tools:
“Everybody thought they were tools, that they were hammers and screwdrivers and things to be looked at in an inanimate fashion,” said Bryon Reeves, a Stanford communications professor who collaborated with Dr. Nass and wrote a book with him, “The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television and New Media as Real People and Places,” which was published in 1996.
“Cliff said, ‘No, these things talk, they have relationships with you, and they make you feel good or bad.’ ”
Nass thought that companies forcing their employees to multitask was a workplace hazard. From a release from the Stanford News Service:
In a 2012 social sciences summit organized by Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Nass warned of the brain-ravaging effects of increasing media consumption.
“Companies now create policies that force their employees to multitask,” he said. “It’s an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) problem. It’s not safe for people’s brains.”
Nass’ research resonates with users of modern, mobile technology. People feel close to their smartphones and tablets, and interact with them as though they were other people. And his 2009 research on multitasking is borne out in increasing evidence that always-on technology makes us less focused and less able to deal with long-form information.
Nass also had a hand in developing one of the most iconic – and mocked – computer products ever. He consulted on Microsoft Bob, the Windows overlay that tried to put a human face on computing, according to the Times obit.
He founded a lab at Stanford that explored how people communicated with interactive media, and he was the co-director for Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research. From the Times:
The university says that the goal of the center, which receives financing from major automakers, is “to radically re-envision the automobile for unprecedented levels of safety, performance, sustainability and enjoyment.”
Nass became increasingly convinced that people should occasionally put down their devices and make face time a priority. But he also knew that there was something to learn about human behavior from the way we treat machines. His most recent book, “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop”, was published in 2010. In it, he argued that the way we interact with computers could have lessons for the way we interact with each other.

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