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Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by kbold, Jul 14, 2019.
Multitasking is by far the best way to almost do a number of jobs at the same time.
Driving is almost entirely multitasking. A driver is busy keeping the car between the lines, looking ahead for hazards, keeping tabs on what's around but not a hazard in three different mirrors, minding road speed, monitoring traction, watching each of the gauges (individually), reading traffic signs, deciding whether the air conditioner is keeping the cabin comfortable and soaking up what's playing on the radio or carrying on a discussion with a passenger. Driving a car with a manual transmission adds watching engine speed and what gear you're in to the list.
Most of us see driving as a single task because we weren't analytical enough to notice the nuances at the young age when we learned to do it. By the time we get there, we've been driving long enough that it's old hat. Training my daughter to drive started with giving her one task and continued with adding more until she could do all of it without my input. Until she was ready to solo, she was effectively offloading part of the job to me and getting feedback on the tasks she was doing, which worked because I was already trained to do it.
My field is computer science, and I've studied and practiced how computers are programmed to multitask, or at least how to look like they are, often when there are real-time requirements. Doing it successfully in software isn't much different than in wetware (your noggin). The key is to understand what tasks need to take priority, when they need to take priority, for how long, how much expense there is in switching tasks and when a task can and cannot be interrupted. Those things aren't constant, which is what makes spending a few seconds re-tuning the radio safer on a wide-open interstate than it is while blasting around a blind turn at the hairy edge of traction. People swerving all over the road because they're too busy with the Big Mac they're eating are letting the more-important keep-it-on-the-road task starve. You can't say one task trumps all others, though, because staving the seemingly-minor watch-the-fuel-gauge task could result in the engine and the car coming to a stop at a time when it would be unsafe.
This statement will probably get some hate thrown at it, but I don't doubt that it's possible to train a human to safely compose and send a text message while driving a car. The important word is train. What we have now are people who believe they're already able to do it or think they can figure it out without being able to offload some of the work and get feedback during the learning phase.
This is Captain Verbose signing off.
There was a time when I was young when I could keep two three things going in my head at the same time, but those days are over. I can hardly remember one thing at a time, and it's a real problem at work. No matter what I'm working on, people keep running to IT with fires to put out, and by the time I fix their problem, I've totally forgotten what I was doing before, and it takes me a couple minutes to recover. When I stop working on something at the end of the day, I have to leave myself Notepad files on the desktop to read in the morning, so I can resume without too much trouble. I think the only reason the company hasn't farmed me out to pasture is because they've tried a couple times, and failed to find anyone who can figure out how to do what I do.
Yes, we are capable of a certain level of multitasking. That is true. What is also true is that the way we are wired, how cognition actually happens - not how people want it to happen or believe it could - controls how effectively one can split attention, and across how many tasks.
For that built in multi-tasking facility, there are actually better ways to describe the process. I think ... I'm no scientist. But I have worked in ergonomics - user interface design, information architecture and the like - on and off for years.
It's about managing attention and focus, and the art of delegating energy to learned motor skills, structuring attention. The process of scanning for air traffic in a small plane for example. A learned skill, a way to time and move attention in ways that hopefully become automatic. While at the same time, one's feet hit the rudder pedals when needed, and only then, based upon other learned motor/attention skills. The brain does very well within its range of possible attention, allocating focus based on alerts.
Now, add a different sort of function. That pilot installs a GPS above the panel. Here we have not one added activity, but many all in one. Learning, recall, interpretive investigation, decision making. Way too much of it conscious. And note that these devices add an entirely new level of alerts, mechanized ways to demand attention.
That's exactly the type of scenario that loads cognition quickly, raises stress (which actually makes it harder to focus) and causes danger. The accident stats are eloquent testimony to the limits of multitasking. In planes, autos and elsewhere.
Yes, training and ergonomics can effectively leverage our cognition, loading it carefully, by design, to within reasonable limits. Which is why fighter pilots can and do divide attention far better than most private pilots.
That care and training is by far the exception in ordinary life, as is the motivation and high physical/emotional requirements of something like flying jets. Those are boundary conditions, not the norm. The norm is a 20 year old driving an unfamiliar car, a little too fast, stressed out due to something or other, texting on the cell while driving. It's deadly. No amount of training or wishing makes it work. That person has so far exceeded their cognitive abilities, it's just a a matter of time til someone gets hurt. These are not a few tasks being tasked. The driving portion alone is well within that person's cognitive abilities, as would the text by itself. Each one of them is many tasks all at once, some conscious some not. Add both together, and you get not multi-tasking, but high speed attention shifting, and stress. And, given that we are proud and determined, there is the sense we're managing it all so very well. When in fact, we are dividing too little attention among far too many tasks, heeding too many alerts too quickly. It's an illusion of multi-tasking. And at least in the car example, often quickly ends in disaster.
The evidence for understanding the true limits of cognitive abilities and decoding the glib assumptions of what is multi-tasking, how and whether it's possible ... is overwhelming.
Just move to the west coast and the $500 ticket for using your phone while driving will improve your focus.
I've read people saying that multitasking is the ability to do a bunch of things badly at the same time. The woman who almost killed me when I crossed a street some years ago because the was driving and reading a magazine at the same time (propped up in front of her on the steering wheel) should take note!
It’s a silly concept. There aren’t really too many jobs that don’t require us to think about more than one thing at a time but making it into a perhaps measurable performance skill is ridiculous.
I don't think my younger brother still does this, but he admits that on long car trips he would steady the steering wheel with his knees and play the harmonica.
Anyone seem him?
Committees: I sometimes think all the words problems are "design by committee". A committee design will always involve compromise.
If you want a solution that doesn't actually solve anything - organise a committee.
I prefer the direct approach: whoever's in charge makes a decision. If it's wrong or not working properly then change or modify it.
Hiring committees: sounds like a waste of time and money - a committee doing a one man job.
......... because the committee decided that, as well as your lack of multitasking skills, you were too decisive and therefore wouldn't become a suitable component of their committee.
Multitasking, oh you mean screwing up several things all at one time
"Driving is almost entirely multitasking. Yes, we are capable of a certain level of multitasking."
Many functions of driving are "rote/unconscious/muscle memory". Maybe a better term than "multi-tasking" would be "micro-tasking".....I don't have to take my eyes off the road or my concentration on the car behind me to shift gears or flip my signal stalk. There ARE tasks in driving that are virtually instinctive. I have had to swerve suddenly in traffic, but still automatically use my signal at the same time. But I absolutely agree that what usually passes for "multi-tasking" simply can't be done properly.
Most people at work who pride themselves on their multitasking ability are surrounded by half done tasks and frustrated coworkers waiting for the completed work product. If it would take three hours to multitask through a group of tasks, everybody waits three hours. Do them one at a time, and most people get what they need much faster. And chances are, the last item will be done sooner because you didn't waste time repeatedly stopping and starting.
One of my band mates taught himself to play harmonica while driving.
anyone read Nick Carr's book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains?
I'm a one thing at a time type. Get something DONE before on to the next. I can't stand a bunch of partially done things. My boss, OTOH thrives on that crap. Do this, do that, go over there, etc
Driving is NOT multitasking, by the commonly understood definition of it. Driving is very much procedural knowledge, a skill that is baked into our brains so deeply that we barely need to be conscious to do it. Like playing a 12 bar shuffle in A - it takes skill, but at some point the skill moves from your frontal cortex elsewhere deep in your brain. That's why you CAN sing along to Billie Jean while driving, but CANNOT safely change a diaper while driving. The tasks have to be buried deep down in your brain.
Multitasking is supposed to mean doing multiple things that require conscious attention and thought. THAT is pretty much impossible.
I once poured orange juice into my bowl of Frosted Flakes (while also looking for my coffee creamer). I was devastated.
While trying to make a first cup of coffee in the morning, I've made every combination of mistakes you can make except, so far, pouring boiling water onto the countertop. But there's always next time. The worst is to pour the last of your cream all over your waiting coffee grounds...
'Zackly! We don't get overloaded with things like heartbeats or exhaling or chewing gum and walking.
But a lot of us turn off the car radio when traffic gets busy. There's too much to pay attention to.
Multitasking. Is that like "being busy at my job" AND posting on the TDPRI?