Media Multitasking Behavior: Concurrent Television and Computer Usage

This study looks at multitasking behaviour measured by the amount and frequency of attention paid to a computer screen and TV. It is interesting, if flawed, at least partly because of the differences it claims to show between multitasking behaviour in older and younger people. The researchers claim to show that there is not much age-related difference in overall time spent looking at things when multitasking, but that younger people’s gaze tends to flit much more frequently – the differences between age groups on this measure are actually quite huge. The researchers don’t make any notable claims about whether this is a good or a bad thing, but it is a result that helps to explain other findings that older people are better at multitasking, inasmuch as they retain more of what they have been paying attention to and are typically less easily distracted (I think I may be an outlier here!). However, the big flaw that I see in this study is that it used staff and students at a university as subjects. University staff are trained to concentrate in quite peculiar ways because that is what scholarly study is all about, and have typically spent a great many years acquiring that habit, so they are not at all representative of older people in general. It would at least be useful to compare this demographic with other older people who do not habitually concentrate very hard and very persistently on one thing for a living.

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I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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