Student Voice: Is Multitasking With Technology a Distraction?
Suchita Chadha is a junior at Emerson College and the author of our weekly “Student Voice” column.
Constant connection. Immediate notifications. The world at your fingertips.
It’s easy to imagine why the average college student—not to mention, everyone else—has a hard time leaving his or her technology behind. Ask any student, and they’ll always include a phone in their list of must-haves when running out the door. The practical uses aside, the success of the smart phone came from its ability to serve numerous functions, and more importantly, to do them simultaneously. Since the first generation of iPhones in 2007, Apple has sold more 700 million iPhones, and their business continues to grow exponentially year after year. There are dangers to this success, however, and students might suffer the most.
It’s unreasonable to expect that we can simply “put the phone away.” There are aspects of smart phones that have shifted the way students in particular approach classes or their assignments, and even life in general. Its biggest asset—multitasking—is also one that students reflect in their own tasks. With so much to do, and the constant feeling of not having enough time, multitasking has a very attractive quality to it. You can get everything done at the same time, “take breaks” by simply switching to a different assignment, and still be in the loop with your friends. Among millennial generation especially, there’s this desire to always be doing everything, and their definition of productivity is closely related to that of multitasking.
The problem is, multitasking is not as productive as it seems. It results in the production of extra stress hormones in our brain, making it more difficult to think clearly. Ironically, or maybe not so much, multitasking is one of the favorite ways college students like to procrastinate. It creates a wonderful illusion of productivity but ultimately enables us to avoid completing any one task.
In his book “Extracted from The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” Daniel J. Levitin suggests, “Just having the opportunity to multitask is detrimental to cognitive performance.” It’s a worrying thought to believe the mere existence of technology stresses us out. But fact or not, banning technology from our lives, however momentarily is hardly the answer. If it not’s the phone, it’ll be the computer, and for the 21st century student, lack of some kind of technological device, would prove more detrimental than anything: there’s another kind of stress Levitin doesn’t mention.
In 2013, the word, FoMo—fear of missing out—was added to the Oxford dictionary, and defined as the “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere.” But it goes beyond that. It’s the idea you could have spent your time differently and more effectively.
So what’s the solution? How can we, as a technology-fixated generation possibly combat the negative impacts of technology without actually giving it up? The answer, as paradoxical as it may be, is technology.
There’s an app for that.
To be more precise, there are several apps for that, and most lists for “must-have apps for college students” will feature at least one. Depending on what level of limitations you need to set for yourself—from having your phone automatically silenced during classes or other work, to actually help you with multitasking by limiting your focus to one activity at a times—there’s a little something for everyone.
Focus is one of the more extreme apps to prevent you from getting distracted or trying to sidetracked. Unlike some other though, it takes a more atmospheric approach. Their goal is to help you “create your ideal environment with 1-click, so you can get high quality work done.” Focus allows you to block certain Mac apps or websites; instead of giving you access, it shows you a motivational quote to get you back in the groove. Similar to it is SelfControl: it doesn’t offer anything to encourage you to study, per se, but it certainly prevents you from a finding a loophole. Like with Focus, the user can set a timer to establish how long they plan to be productive, but in SelfControl, “until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites–even if you restart your computer or delete the application.”
Technology is vital to progress; it’s also an extension of ourselves. As distracting as it may be, it’s also the key to finding new ways to be productive.
Suchita is a student at Emerson College, where she is pursuing a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing for poetry with a Global & Post-Colonial Studies minor. She has been published in Verge Magazine (Canada) and Affairs Today (UK).