Aside from walking and chewing gum, humans can’t multitask . Multitasking suggests doing two things at the same time like your computer does. The more powerful the computer, the greater its ability to do more things at the same time, without any noticeable degradation in performance. Not so with humans.
What got me thinking about this topic was a recent trip to a major Big Box electronic retailer to get a price adjustment on a recent purchase. Upon approaching the customer service desk, I noticed that the employee was on the phone and another individual was at the far end of the counter whom I assumed was being served by another staff member who happened to be out of sight.
Without missing a beat the individual on the phone motions me to come to the counter and asks how she can help all the while carrying on her phone conversation. I said I’ll wait until she’s finished her call, to which she responded “I’ll be awhile, but I can take care of your problem at the same time” as she was looking up something her computer and having an un-business like phone call.
So to make a short story even longer, three times she asked me what my problem was and my answer was cut off three times as she asks a question that was unrelated to my issue. Momentarily confused, I then realized that the questions she was asking were related to the issue the other person at the counter was having and those questions were directed to whoever she was talking to on the phone. All this was going on while she was intently focused on her computer monitor. Throughout this performance, she was also trying to have a conversation with another staff member. Simply put, utter confusion would sum up the situation nicely.
This young lady truly believes she’s being efficient and that she offers excellent customer service because of her perceived ability to multitask and process customers quickly. Unfortunately, her performance actually produced the opposite results. In other words she was doing a whole bunch of things, poorly.
A quick internet search will produce a bucket load of information that we as a species can’t multitask. When you actually watch someone try to multitask you quickly realize that they aren’t doing two or more things at the same time but in actuality they stop doing one task in order to do another task. This stop/start requires you to constantly refocus on whatever task you’re trying to accomplish. I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble staying focused on one thing let alone having to constantly refocus. In all fairness, I assume the success rate is much higher on mundane and repetitive tasks but less so on anything that requires the least bit of concentration.
What’s really crazy is that I performed a quick search on a major online job site looking for the term “multitask” within the job description and the search returned no less 237 results. Unfortunately, this does nothing more than perpetuate the myth that humans can multitask. The ads should read something to the effect of “ The individual should be able to effectively juggle multiple priorities…”.
Because humans juggle, computers multitask.
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Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2012