The increasing number of sources from which we get information at the same time, however, may be compromising our ability to focus on any of it and could actually be making it harder for us to multitask effectively.
With e-mails, phone calls, text messages and online social media all competing for our attention, often against a background of television, radio or music, our brains can reach information overload, research has suggested.
This appears to distract us from concentrating on particular activities, and also limits the ability to switch from one job to another — a key element of the multitasking that media omnivores often claim as their great strength.
The study, led by Clifford Nass, of Stanford University in California, is among the first to investigate whether cognitive abilities might be affected by the range of media that people regularly use. The results are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“With the diffusion of larger computing screens supporting multiple windows and browsers, chat and SMS, and portable media coupled with social and work expectations of immediate responsiveness, media multi-tasking is quickly becoming ubiquitous,” the scientists wrote. “These changes are placing new demands on cognitive processing, and especially on attention allocation.”
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