OPINION

Book Review - Reclaiming Conversation - The Illusion of Multitasking

I recently completed reading Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle. Sherry’s position is that the classic, face-to-face conversation is critical to our personal development and communication, but we are dangerously close to abandoning conversation for the lure of digital efficiency and control.

This is part 4/4, see all the parts below:

  1. Personal Development
  2. Family Development
  3. Professional Development
  4. The Illusion of Multitasking Development

Some highlights which particularly resonated with me:

The illusion of multitasking

How conference calls include an implicit expectation that you’ll be multitasking:

at ReadyLearn, it is assumed that when you are on a conference call, you are available for email and messaging on the side. Increasingly, the assumption of divided attention is also made for in-person meetings, particularly status meetings

The waste of time that multitasking meetings are:

‘What’s the point of my even doing anything? No one is listening.’ People are speaking ‘for the record.’” When people speak for the record, they usually don’t listen to what comes before or after. Meetings are performances of what meetings used to be.

The role of senior staff in mentoring the “social generation”:

Mentoring for conversation requires that you address two questions. You will be asked, outright, “Why focus on one thing, as you must in a face-to-face conversation, when you can get greater ‘value’ from spreading around your attention?” The answer: Multitasking will not bring greater value. You will feel you are achieving more and more as you accomplish less and less. You will be asked, outright, “Why go through the anxiety of separating from all of your connections to focus on the small group you are with?” The answer: The more you talk to your colleagues, the greater your productivity.

How we fool ourselves into thinking we are being “effective multitaskers”:

Multitasking comes with its own high. Our brains crave the fast and unpredictable, the quick hit of the new. We know this is a human vulnerability. Unless we design our lives and technology to work around it, we resign ourselves to diminished performance.

The surprising results of uni-tasking:

In a world where everyone “knows” that multitasking is bad for you but doesn’t do anything about it, things change if your employer tells you that you are going to be given the time, space, and privacy to begin and complete important tasks one by one.

The benefits of encouraging solitude and uni-tasking:

But studies show that on average, an office worker is distracted (electronically) every three minutes and that it takes an average of twenty-three minutes to get back on track… Encouraging conversation gives you permission to encourage solitude. Give yourself and others permission to think—sometimes alone—and provide time and space to do so… Good management in the twenty-first century asks us to help our employees learn to tolerate the anxiety of being left alone long enough to think their own thoughts.

A strategy for coping with information-overload:

So if as a parent or teacher or employer you receive an email request, respond by saying that you need time to think about it. This seems a small thing, but it is too rarely done. A thirty-year-old consultant tells me that in her world, this response would be “age-inappropriate.” This makes me think that it is time to reconsider our sense of the appropriate in every domain.


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