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Alina Tugend, a New York Times columnist, analyzes and informs the general population about the negative side effects of multitasking in her 2008 report “Multitasking can make you lose… Um… Focus.” Tugend gathers a multitude of supporting evidence by exhibiting research completed by psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and a professor of psychology. The facts that she incorporates into her paper corroborate her thesis, as all of them demonstrate how multitasking can reduce the quality of our work and how our brains are biologically unable to effectively focus on multiple tasks at once.
Tugend begins her essay by asking a series of questions such as, “are you listening to music or the radio? Are you emailing or instant messaging at the same time?.” These questions direct the reader’s attention towards the focus of her paper, as it makes them aware of how subconsciously our society has normalized accomplishing several tasks at once, even if they are as trivial as having the television on while working on an assignment, or engaging in a telephone conversation while grilling a steak. Tugend successfully incorporates facts from medical professionals such as neuroscientist Earl Miller, who studied the decreased amounts of activated neurons in response to multiple visual stimuli, and professor of psychology David Meyer, whose research on young adults switching focus on various tasks proved that those tests not only took longer to complete, but the subjects had trouble concentrating on the more difficult tasks. Additionally, Tugend changes from focusing on the quality of tasks being accomplished to the negative effects that may be incurred by the person accomplishing those tasks. She references a study by Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics, who analyzed the amount of stress, pressure, and frustration that were exhibited by the participants as they were interrupted while completing a task. Tugend ends her report by stating that multitasking is a trait that people have developed over the years and occurs without us even realizing it, but she encourages her audience to attempt to focus on what we are accomplishing and “learn the art of single-tasking.”
Tugend’s stance on the topic is easily identifiable in the first paragraph of her report. She opens up the essay with the introduction of her topic then immediately follows it with her initial assumption of multitasking which states that “it can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient”. She structures her essay in a format that is easy to read and comprehend by opening the essay with her stance on the subject. She follows the opening with the effects that multitasking has on the quality of the accomplished tasks and includes the detrimental effects on the people that incorporate this method into their everyday lives. Finally, she ends the essay with her suggestion of training ourselves to focus on a single task at a time. Tugend successfully proves her point by incorporating multiple examples throughout the entire paper that display research conducted by professionals that have studied this topic extensively. Her examples range from external impacts (stress, decreased production, etc.) to internal biological limits of our pre-frontal cortex, which allows us to accomplish a few routine tasks at a time but make it difficult for us to complete multiple things once they “demand more cognitive process”.
As someone that researches every topic possible before making an inference or opinion on a matter, I agree with Tugend’s stance on multitasking. As technology has advanced over the years, it has become an easy and integral part of our societal system to accomplish multiple things at once; for example, cars are made with Bluetooth which allows drivers to have a conversation and drive, and tablets have a split-screen capability that lets students write a paper and watch a video at the same time. “A new email message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration” (Nicholas Carr, 796). The research that Tugend utilizes as evidence depicts the societal pressure that exists to accomplish more in less time. One of the medical professionals referenced, Dr. Hallowell, coined a new term called “attention deficit trait” which “springs entirely from the environment.” Hallowell mentions that “As our minds fill with noise-feckless synaptic events signifying nothing- the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and gradually to anything”.
Prior to reading the article, my assumptions were that multitasking must have negative effects on the tasks accomplished and the person accomplishing said tasks. My assumptions were validated with Tugend’s essay and the plentitude of support that she weaved into her article by credible sources and professionals on the topics. The professionals that were included conducted copious amounts of research that supported their facts and Tugend’s stance on the subject presented.
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