“Don’t believe the multitasking hype, scientists say. New research shows that we humans aren’t as good as we think we are at doing several things at once. But it also highlights a human skill that gave us an evolutionary edge. As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth — and they have the data to prove it.
Humans, they say, don’t do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly. A case example, researchers say, is a group of people who focus not on a BlackBerry but on a blueberry — as in pancakes.
Diner Cook: A Task Master:
To make it as a short-order cook, you must be able to keep a half-dozen orders in your head while cracking eggs, flipping pancakes, working the counter, and refilling coffee cups. And at a restaurant like the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Md., the orders come in verbally, not on a ticket. Chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled with sausage, order of french fries, rye toast — they’re small tasks. On a busy day, though, they add up to a tough job for Shawn Swinson. “My first month here, I was ready to walk out the door,” he said. Asked what it feels like when he’s in the middle of rush hour, Swinson said, “Like you’re in an insane asylum. It’s almost unbearable.”
“It’s singularly the most difficult job in this type of operation,” Long said. “Four cooks. Five waitresses. Bus staff. Host. Getting them in and out.” Speed and accuracy are at a premium — especially when the customers are multitasking, too. Lunchtime is the worst, Long said. “People may have an errand to run. Maybe go to the bank and pick up dry cleaning, and eat. All within an hour, whatever time they have.” It’s all part of life these days. We answer e-mails while yapping on the phone. We schedule appointments while driving and listening to the radio. And it seems as if we’re focusing on all these tasks simultaneously, as if we’ve become true masters of doing 10 things at once. But, brain researchers say, that’s not really the case.”