Beach Walk 523 – Multitask to a New Brain

As I have mentioned before, Secret Cameraman is not fond of multitasking.

I am. Or at least, I like to do a few things at once assuming none of them require deep concentration. New brain studies from UCLA though show that the interruptions trigger a different part of the brain, and that long term memory of the task “suffers” as a result.

What if multitasking is brain evolution in process? Will the multitaskers have an advantage?

However! I started wondering if there isn’t some evolutionary adaptation going on. The younger you are, the more likely you can engage in multiple IM conversations at once, and interact with several devices/people at the same time. What if we are learning to act more in the moment? What if we don’t need the long term memory so much, because we have digital storage of data to access whenever desired? Just like you don’t have to memorize a lot now with the existence of Wikipedia.

Hawaiian Word:
Lolo: brain

Be in Touch!


  1. JFSD (Jonnie) says

    Aloha Friday Rox!

    I’m listening to this again because the first time I was watching and listening I was multitasking and forgot much of the detail of today’s show!

    Based on the article, long-term memory is affected when a person multitasks. To effectively multitask then types of work or tasks would be (or not) appropriate as targets of multitasking. I probably don’t need to remember everything; as long as I have written something down or entered data into the computer and then know how to retrieve it, I’m okay.

    I have a coworker who doesn’t function in any other mode than multitask – however, this person never finishes ANYTHING! It makes me nuts. I’m not sure if the ‘not finishing’ is related to multitasking or maybe an issue with focus or attention. Anyway, I’m King of making excuses for people and wearing rose colored glasses, and in the end, work-life is really only a means to an end. It will all work out. 😉

    PS: Did you and SC dress up for Halloween or go to any Halloween parties? I am curious if it is different in Hawaii than on the mainland.

  2. Yeah, I’m just like the person that Jonnie’s talking about. ie I want to be like Rox and multitask, but I’m just not highly evolved enough yet and so it just means I never finish anything.
    And that works quite well with my subconscious’s desperate need to prove to myself that I will fail at everything.
    But I just realised I’m using it to my advantage. I wanted to post a video every day for NaVloPoMo, so I also signed up to NaNoWriMo, telling myself I was also going to write a novel this month. That way, I can satisfy my demons by failing to complete the novel, thus distracting them while I get on with posting videos every day. I said to Beth Tilston of Above The Rug, it’s like throwing your partner to the lions so that your children can make good their escape.

  3. Aloha Friday!

    Rox – I think you are right on in your 3rd paragraph.

    BTW – I thought this article was interesting.

    Happy Weekending!

    One more BTW – Leopard rocks! 😉

  4. Hi Rox, nice to see you back on the beach. 🙂
    Multiple comments/obeservations on this post.
    1. No surprise that you like to multi-task and Shane doesn’t. Overall, women are much better at juggling several mental tasks at the same time, whereas we men tend to plod along more serially. But that’s a whole other discussion. 🙂
    2. Technology has turned us into an interrupt-driven society. The cellphone, email, instant messaging and Twitter have set an expectation of immediate response and 24/7 availability. Unfortunately, as you observed, our brains aren’t nearly as good as computers at quickly swapping contexts.
    3. Some tasks are much less tolerant of interrupt than others. Programming is one of them. It takes a fairly long time (15 mins or so) to construct in one’s “working store” a mental model of what’s going on in a running computer program. Being interrupted for longer than a few seconds causes this house of mental cards to collapse, and one must start over again and reconstruct the model in the part of your brain where you can refer to it quickly.
    4. It’s a really interesting question as to whether we actually get more done now, in our interrupt-driven workplaces, than we did decades ago, when people were left alone to concentrate. I wonder whether today we’d be able to build ships and oil refineries in 90 days like they did in World War II.

  5. Great comments. As for do we get more done? Yes. Is it worth more? Perhaps not – but it is what it is. Building ships in 90 days? Yes – they do that on Extreme Home Makeover.

    I am not trying to say mt is better – only that there is a movement to put it down, I think, rather than examine the pros and cons of different types of functionality and be able to apply them on a case by case basis.

    You all know me – the lobbyist for freedom to explore what works and what doesn’t, regardless of what the mainstream mind says should or shouldn’t. Making things good or bad obscures the little bits of pleasure and utility that can be found all over the place.

  6. How about discussing the opposite habit of working and playing in a “zone.” Artists and athletes often do it. And I suspect many of us, even multitaskers, do it for pleasure, survival or just to accomplish something.

  7. Hello everyone,
    we’re all good at multi-tasking; we can tie our shoes in the morning while listening to the weather forecasts for the day – well, not you guys in Hawaii “Clear skies, cool breezes, and temperatures in the 80s” probably gets a little boring in a week or so. . . grin
    We drive and make dozens of decisions about which route to take, go faster or slower, or whether the joker on the corner will turn in spite of me having the green. . .?
    So, we can do many things at one time. I just think we’re not good at concentrating on each thing we do to produce the best of each thing we’re doing. . . unlike a computer that can build a priority and run its program according to that priority, the human brain is easily distracted and driving (and highway safety) may take a back seat to the cell phone call to the talk show host on the morning radio program.
    As Rox said, perhaps we just need a bit more practice at it. If we lose one sense, the others take up a bit of the slack for the body; so it stands to reason that if we overload a sense, perhaps the other senses will pick up the slack in that instance as well – although I think other major factors may come into place – stress for one.
    Interesting and intriguing musing. . .

    Until that time. . . Earl J.

  8. hi,
    wow, what a georgeous beach. I enjoyed watching your video. what i think the brain is good at is detecting change. scientists have begun to map out how the brain responds to lets say a new smell. long story short from your nose, the message goes to an olfactory cortex and then to a portion of the brain called the hippacampus. many people assoaciate the hippacampus with short term memory, and with the ability to form long term memory, which are generally thought to reside in the front of the brain, the cortex. Further evidence is that the thalmus, which is very involved in emotion sits right next to the hippacampus. Our memories of events that contain deep emotion are the strongest, eg. where where you when jfk was killed, etc.

    On possibility as to what is happening, is that if the hippocampus due to multitasking is receiving information about multiple activities, although it attempts to ‘tune’ out the repetitive activites, loading it up with those repetitve activities may interfere with it’s storing memories about the key task that you care about.

    for me, when i study i am a quitness freak. not complete quiet but no conversations, if there are i put on music.

    The packets, neet idea. You could work on packet 1,2, from let’s say task one and then packet 3 would actually be packet one from task 2. Very high speed machines, like computers have used that method for a long time, dating back to timesharing. you thought you had the exclusive capacity of the computer, when in fact it was sharing its capacity with 100 other users at the same time.

    Where i strongly agree is that this is a fascinating time. People like Dr. Gary Lynch at UC Irvine has shown for the first time that a memory actually causes a physical change in the neuron of the brain. He recently took a picture of one. Pet, or Positron e Technology, shows what portions of the brain are working on a particular task.

    Do i think that normal evolution is going to change our ability to multitask in 3-4 generations? Probably not. But what will be possible, and this is absolutely scary is that we many be able to look at a developing baby is determine if an embroyes genes make it likely that the baby will be able to multitask.

    But what your beach scene shows, is that is is a wonderful time to be alive.

    I AGREE. I now have to find a beach to walk on. fortunately there is one about 10 miles away.

    Thanks for the video.

  9. JFSD (Jonnie) says

    @Rox: I think you’re right about a movement to put MT down – I’m probably guilty of it as well.

    A few years ago I transferred to a department that was predominately ran by women who had no problem telling you (me) about their superiority in their multitasking ability. I felt that some of those comments were just the tips of icebergs of larger issues in the workplace; all are probably too lengthy and heavy for this wonderful place on the web.

    And I try use MT where I can – ex: pausing in the middle of creating a reply to an email to respond to someone with a question who just walked into by office/cube. If I simply don’t react, and just stop one process and start another, it’s not too bad.

    In the best case scenario I think I am probably TS (task switching) versus MT (multitasking). I have lots of stuff running around in my head all the time, but as best as I can tell it’s not all running concurrently.

  10. Well we almost have the makings of a white paper on MYT here.

    @JFSD – I hear you on the bullying tactics; people fighting their way to recognition are often abrasive before being confident in their postion. I read in the NY Times that people are still confused by women at work – the conflict of nice v. take charge; it’s gonna be a few generations before we adapt our brains to trust women as leaders as well as nurturers apparently.

    @why_not – loved your insights and technical briefing. Please check out BW #504 as other researchers are finding that some brains detect (and respond to) change more than others, and there is a relationship to one’s conservative or liberal preferences.

    @SoCalGirl – so noted; I love periods of deep focus and they are not to be dissed in favor of MT! I am curious of there are certain activities that people find more suited to one or the other. why_not likes to study in quiet though I know some programmers who like to listen to loud music in headphones to help them really go down deep in the code.

  11. Daudios created a video response to this episode with some interesting ideas about memories and the connections they make in the brain. You can watch it here.