A recently-released study at Ohio State University showed that the number of pedestrians who have had to visit an emergency room because they became distracted and injured themselves doubled to 1000 in 2008 from 2007, which itself was nearly double the 2006 figures.
One doesn’t have to go far to find a pedestrian engrossed in some form of handheld electronic device these days as society and information both become more mobile.
While many believe that they are successfully multitasking, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The inability for the human brain to multitask is something that most everyone wants to wish away but few recognize that it simply isn’t possible. Our brains aren’t wired that way and this didn’t miraculously change with the dawn of the Information Age.
When we reviewed the research done for “The Cost of Not Paying Attention” five years ago, it came as no surprise to find out that knowledge workers lost as much as a quarter of the workday due to interruptions and a phenomenon known as recovery time. Each interruption comes at a cost – namely the “recovery time” or time it takes to get back to where one was prior to the interruption – and is typically 10 to 20 times the duration of the interruption itself.
Instead of multitasking, what happens is a form of time slicing. Instead of being able to handle multiple tasks at once, our brains stop and start multiple times trying to address each individual task. The recovery time from these stops and starts adds up as well.
If only people would focus on the task at hand – whether it be writing a report or walking down the street – without trying to juggle multiple tasks, everyone would be a lot better off. President Gerald Ford was once accused of being too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time. Perhaps he simply chose to focus on one task at a time.
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.