...[E]vidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success—the new marshmallow test of self-discipline—is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone [Annie Murphy Paul, "You'll Never Learn!" Slate, 2013.05.03].You may think you're good at multitasking, but you're wrong:
David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who’s studied the effects of divided attention on learning, takes a firm line on the brain’s ability to multitask: “Under most conditions, the brain simply cannot do two complex tasks at the same time. It can happen only when the two tasks are both very simple and when they don’t compete with each other for the same mental resources. An example would be folding laundry and listening to the weather report on the radio. That’s fine. But listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.”I find it as hard as my students to resist the urge to check my e-mail and Twitter and run down various info-rabbit holes on Wikipedia and Le Monde and the local news when I have a live computer screen and all those tempting buttons right in front of me. But we mustn't rationalize giving in to our urges under the guise of multitasking. If you're engaging with people on the phone or Facebook, you're not engaging with the people in your classroom or with the book you're supposed to be reading.
Young people think they can perform two challenging tasks at once, Meyer acknowledges, but “they are deluded,” he declares. It’s difficult for anyone to properly evaluate how well his or her own mental processes are operating, he points out, because most of these processes are unconscious. And, Meyer adds, “there’s nothing magical about the brains of so-called ‘digital natives’ that keeps them from suffering the inefficiencies of multitasking. They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish” [Paul, 2013.05.03].
Giving someone or something your undivided attention is a valuable and necessary skill. Some things can't be learned in two-minute bursts.
Besides, most calls and texts you receive do not demand your immediate attention. Respect the task at hand or the person you're with by shutting off your phone and other inputs and focusing on that task or that person.