Multitasking in the Digital Age

Having just finished The Shallows, when I began reading Language and Learning in the Digital Age, the section that Gee and Hayes spend focused on multitasking in the opening chapter caught my attention. The suggestion Carr makes, specifically in “The Juggler’s Brain” chapter, being that our increased online usage and constant shifting attention might “make our brains more nimble when it comes to multitasking,” but ultimately our ability for deep, creative thinking is being “hampered.” According to Carr, the more we multitask due to online activities, the less deliberate we are becoming and in turn, the less reasonable we are at thinking through problems.

While Gee and Hayes acknowledge that multitasking is a well-discussed topic, the phenomena of the “digital-generation” and its abilities to multitask are portrayed in a light different than the one Carr shed. As Carr makes appoint, it is our online activities that are altering our multitasking skills and diminishing our creative thinking skills. Gee and Hayes contest this notion when they make the claim that “oral language has always demanded multitasking.” They explain that the natural act of speaking demands our attention on a plethora of different levels. Gee and Hayes also assert that “today multitasking is required more than ever and the ability to know how, when, and where to multitask is becoming paramount.”

So, using Gee and Hayes to respond to Carr’s assertion; if oral language and speaking do indeed require a significant level of multitasking, then that would mean that deep and creative thinking is born out of multitasking—not stifled by it. All of the first great works of writing, at one point or another, were told and passed down as oral stories or traditions. If deep and creative thinking can be consumed through a deep reading of a great piece of literature, and we follow the lineage of that literature using Gee and Hayes roadmap, then it traces back to multitasking while telling the oral tradition.

Following this idea, as Gee and Hayes assert the ability to know where, when, and how to multitask is becoming increasingly a necessary skill, that in itself is a form of critical thinking. Discerning between when or where or how to multitask or allocate attention or compartmentalize time is a skill developed only through trial and error and analysis. Analysis, being deep critical thinking on the issue and creative thinking to repair the issue, proves that we, the “digital generation” are still engaging deep, creative thinking not only in spite of multitasking but because of it. According to Gee and Hayes, we have actually been multitasking since we were first introduced to language, not the Internet.

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