Term Paper: Online Multitasking

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Change Management

Online Multitasking

Perhaps the very best question that you can memorize and repeat, over and over, is, what is the most valuable use of my time right now?'" - Brian Tracy, Motivational Coach and Author (Tracy, N.d.)

Eons of Multitasking

College students, as well as, businessmen/women, and parents, particularly moms, practiced multitasking eons before the Internet came into their lives and individuals attempt to realize more from their valuable time. One study, the Internet Goes to College, by Pew Internet Projects (Jones, 2002), suggests that the multitasking behavior students currently present online is not a new technique, but rather a supplementary method to reproduce types of multiple interactions students previously performed offline. Researchers report that currently, a number of college students use multiple programs at once, e.g., logging in to an instant messaging program while they worked on papers, and browsing Web pages while completing a class assignment. The study by Jones (2002) Students' use of such tools as IM clients and email as new media reproduces social interactions students previous experienced. The rapid spread of wireless access on and off college campuses is expected to contribute to an increase in multitasking as students and other individuals are able to utilize email, IM and other Internet tools any time; anyplace, on and/or off campus.

Although media multitasking among younger generations currently nets popularity, human communication research and cognitive psychology contend that in regard to simultaneous multitask processing: humans possess relatively poor simultaneous processing skills. These skills, noted to be finite and rather inflexible, prove to consequently be limited in how and where a person may effectively apply them. When an indivdiaul receives a number of varying messages via different information channels, such as through visual and auditory channel, Cocchini et. al. (2002) stresses, the simultaneous multitask processing presents a more difficult than "normal" challenge for the person. The concept of attending to something, Posner (1999, 2000) notes, is anchored in a hierarchical selection process, not in some notion of parallelism. In addition, a myriad of dual attention studies in mass communication strongly suggest viewers' attention tolerance for multiple information inputs ranks much lower than efforts mandated to effectively perform tasks. (e.g., Grimes, 1991; Lang 1995, 2000) the convergence of information processing and communications technologies, plainly projected by the Internet, reflects one primary change affecting individuals, organizations, and societies during recent years. As various forms of new communication mechanism emerged, a number of these strongly impact human interactions. The rapid growth of digital technology, particularly with the computer as not only an information processing machine, but also as the communication medium constitutes a contemporary multimedia station. As the computer can currently perform numerous functions, also served by other traditional medium, including, but not limited to, radio, telephone, CD/DVD player, and TV, a person can increasingly use information resources and perform technology-supported tasks with a diverse set of tools through the computer. In addition, devices with customizable interfaces, often mobile, may be utilized online in a variety of contexts. Contemporary developments such as these mandate that individuals learn more about the relationships between an individual's characteristics of individuals and technology's ever increasing features. Ensuring a "good fit" between technology and individual preferences potentially proffers numerous benefits, including improved productivity because of a better focus on the actual task and fewer distractions evolving from a mismatch between technology and the user. As new technology enables an individual to customize the tools he/she uses, it becomes vital users understand as much as possible about the interaction between individual characteristics and technology.

Generation Y and Multitasking the young Americans, aged between 18 and 25, maintain a myriad labels, including "Generation Y" or "Generation Next." These individuals constitute the cohort of young adults who, growing up with personal computers, cell phones and the internet, now claim their place in a world where some contend constant, rapid changes constitute the primary constant in their world. (Pew Research Center, 2007) Along with constant changes, albeit, one more reality this generation realizes is that they qualify as the most avid multitaskers in both online and offline activities. Studies focusing on media multitasking emerging recently, include two Middletown Media Studies (Papper, Holmes, and Popovich, 2004; Papper, Holmes, Popovich, and Bloxham, 2005), Kaiser Family Foundation Studies on American Youth Media Exposure (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005), and numerous Pew Internet & American Life Project Studies. Middletown Media Studies found it appears much more extensive simultaneous multiple media use exists than may be realized. In this expansive realm of multiple media use, individuals frequently use some types of media more frequently, in conjunction with other forms. Instant messaging, for example, along with telephone and/or newspaper often occurs along with other media forms. When Kaiser Family Foundation examined the full pattern of media use among a representative sample of U.S. youth, their study revealed U.S. youngsters are immersed in media. In 1999, the average youth devoted 6.75 hours to media; with simultaneous use of multiple media (i.e., media multitasking) increasing exposure to 8 hours of daily media messages. Studies five years later, report that in the U.S., 8- to 18-year-olds reportedly spend in excess of eight and a half hours daily, exposed to recreational media content.

However, as many youth frequently utilize two or more media simultaneously, it appears they engage in media multitasking during at least one fourth of their media exposure time. Even though, overall media exposure time increased from 1999 to 2004 by more than an hour, albeit, media use only increased two minutes. In other words, as media exposure increased, the proportion of time devoted to media multitasking also increased, to the extent the actual amount of time devoted to media use remained constant. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005)

Theoretical Issues and Literature Review

As noted at this study's start, contrary to the popularity of media multitasking among younger generations, human communication research and cognitive psychology clearly contend that humans do not possess strong simultaneous processing skills and components of skills readily limit in and where and these sills may be applied.

Kahneman (1973) argues that when auditory and visual channels complement one another, they create a "superordinate [semantic] structure" which basically constitutes a semantic blend of message channels, which blend as an intact semantic unit, due to the viewer's perceptions. The less they semantically complement one another, however, the less successful they become in building this superordinate structure, with more attentional effort then required to selectively allot priority to the components to later, be processed further. Kahneman's basic findings are supported by more recent, and methodologically sophisticated investigations of this phenomenon. (e.g., Posner, 1999) Although many aspects of the networked life remain scientifically uncharted, substantial literature relates how the brain handles multitasking. Basically, the process involves rapid toggling among tasks, not simultaneous processing. A user does not actually do more than one thing, but orders tasks and decides which one to work on at a particular time. According to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study Grafman's team (Knutson, Wood, & Grafman, 2004) completed, (Knutson, Wood, & Grafman, 2004), the switching of attention from one task to another occurs in Brodmann's Area 10, a region directly behind the forehead, in the brain's anterior prefrontal cortex. Brodmann's Area 10, part of the frontal lobes, is vital for maintaining long-term goals and achieving them. The most anterior part allows one to leave something when it is incomplete and return to the same place and continue from there. This gives individuals a "form of multitasking t," even though what is done is actually sequential processing. Because the prefrontal cortex constitutes one of the last regions of the brain to mature and one of the first to decline with aging, young children do not multitask well. Neither do most adults over 60. The limited capacity theory of information processing provides another perspective to studying media multitasking, Lang (1995) notes. Variables within the theory consist of the medium, the content of the message, and the goal of the message. Different media, contents, and goals reportedly lead to viewers' various patterns of motivational and cognitive responses. The individual differences of the media user or viewer interacts with the messages' structure and content determine much about how he/she processes a message during multitasking. This includes which parts of the messages he/she will attend to, encode, and store, as well as how he/she will evaluate and link the message. Individuals reportedly possess limited capacity information processors, Basil, 1994; Schneider, Dumais, and Shiffrin (1984), along with Shiffrin and Schneider (1977) purport. They also only have a limited number of cognitive resources they can apply to tasks of perceiving, encoding, understanding, and remembering in their world. When insufficient resources are available for attempted tasks, in turn, an individual's processing suffers. The two underlying systems motivating individuals, the appetitive (or approach) system and the aversive (or avoidance) system (Bradley, 1994; Cacioppo and Gardner, 1999; Lang, Bradley, and Cuthbert, 1997) automatically activate in response to motivationally relevant stimuli in the individual's environment and influence his/her ongoing cognitive processing. As the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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