Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Take the Slow Think Pledge

Sharon Wildwind

A couple of days ago I was in a local coffee shop far too early. The sun wasn’t even up, which in Calgary right now means before 8:30 in the morning. There was a large high school across the street, and a student, probably 17 or so, sat at a back table, drinking a latte and working on three electronic devices at once. She had a laptop in front of her and a tablet and smart phone on stands on either side of the laptop. From the way her eyes went from one device to another, I suspected she’d collected data on all three devices and was busy collating everything into a unified document on the laptop.

According to a new report from Michigan State University's psychology department, she may have also been setting herself up for depression and anxiety. This is the second report this year that has observed a direct link between media multi-tasking and mental health issues.

Because the research in this area is so new the first question is do we have a chicken or an egg here? Are students depressed and anxious because they are multitasking? Or, do they turn to multitasking because they already have more anxiety and depression than other students? It’s going to be interesting to see what research turns up next.

In the spirit of full disclosure, which seems to be big right now, I have to tell you that I feel caught between two worlds. I’ve intentionally spent a lot of time and effort becoming better at electronic media. Heck, I even tweet now almost daily. (@sharww if you’re interested) I love the increased productivity—or more likely, the appearance of increased productivity—and at the same time, I hold a deep and abiding belief that multi-tasking is unhealthy to the nth degree.

Linking multitasking and mental health may be new research but there are multiple studies which have reported that multitasking leads to lack of focus, memory impairment, increased stress levels, and and inability to sustain productive work over time. Houke de Kwant, a communication & multimedia design student design student from the Netherlands distilled a lot of research into an interesting infographic.

Since I’m already a fan of handmade things and the slow food movement, why not go for a trifecta by starting a movement for slow thinking?

If we could get a lot of people, a whole world full of people, to treat every task as a work of art, to give each project full attention, to appreciate the beauty of doing one thing at a time, who knows what that might do for our collective mental health?

Print out that last paragraph and put it somewhere you can see it. At least until the holidays are over. We could all use a little extra calming this time of year.

Timely addition: came across this article about 5 days after writing the blog. Apparently, there is a slow science movement, too, because scientists are too busy to think.


Quote for the week
Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus. 
~Alexander Graham Bell, (1847 – 1922) scientist, inventor, engineer, and innovator (Also the first person faced with the dilemma of whether or not to get up from the dinner table to answer the phone.)


Sandra Parshall said...

I, for one, am totally frazzled by multi-tasking. It makes me feel overwhelmed, exhausted before I even get started. Yeah, it's time to go back to doing one thing at a time.

Leslie Budewitz said...

You've got me thinking -- slowwwwwly. Love the quote -- and your comment on it.

Anonymous said...

The real question is how do we get the world to let us alone long enough to slow think?

Anonymous said...

I heard on the radio today that the latest corporate study finds that people in offices get interrupted every 3 minutes!!! Wow! Glad I'm outta the Fortune 100 workplace!! Into the nice quiet of the crime creative world!! Ha HA ! Thelma Straw in Manhattan