Here’s a Wall Street Journal article reporting on the impact of social media multitasking in the workplace. It’s sure to start some great watercooler fights. Consider these key paragraphs.
“Some argue they can accomplish a great deal: This generation has a gift for multitasking, and because they’ve integrated technology into their lives, their ability to remain connected to each other will serve them and their employers well. Others contend that these hyper-socializers are serial time-wasters, that the bonds between them are shallow, and that their face-to-face interpersonal skills are poor.”
“That’s far too harsh an assessment, says Ben Bajarin, 32, a technology analyst at Creative Strategies, a consulting firm in Campbell, Calif. He argues that because young people are so adept at multimedia socializing, their social skills are actually strengthened. They’re good at “managing conversations” and getting to the pithy essence of an issue, he says, which will help them in the workplace.”
Let’s realize that, in the tradition and practice of journalism, this piece is designed to start an argument and not decide one. Key terms are not defined. Quotations become evidence, data, or exemplar. Different perspectives are jammed against each other with little regard for logic or consistency. That’s how you write a good pop news article and start a conversation. It’s not how you think effectively about multitasking, social media, and the workplace.
Consider all this from a dual process approach instead.
Your receiver’s Willingness and Ability to Think (WATTage) is the single most important variable for persuasion and, indeed, for most human action. Low WATT receivers respond to the world in very different ways than High WATT people.
The test is simple. Throw a dimmer switch to High or Low for randomly assigned receivers, then expose them to strong or weak Arguments. Low WATT receivers cannot see the difference between strong and weak while High WATT receivers can and do.
One common dimmer switch in the research lit is called “distraction” and it is accomplished by having people confront several tasks simultaneously. Thus, randomly assign some folks to do one task and others to do several tasks, then give them strong or weak Arguments and see what happens. In every case I’ve ever read, distracted receivers go Low WATT and fail to react to the strong-weak Argument manipulation while the undistracted receivers go High WATT and do see the difference. To mix metaphors, distraction through multitasking breaks our cognitive resource into small streams of WATTage when each task requires a river of WATTage.
To complicate the problem of this distraction effect we can add the misperception of Low WATT processors. They do complete all the tasks and they read the Arguments. They believe they are doing a good job (rather like the quote from Ben Bajarin above), but the cold, hard, empirical truth is they can’t spot the difference between GAL and ILU; they just think they can. And, since no one works toward failure, when you complete a task, you tend to think you’ve not only done it, but done it well, too.
Thus, multitasking both distracts WATTage and distracts you from your errors and oversights, mistakes and failures. It’s a perfect TOS – Tool of Satan: it not only kills your performance, but also leaves you feeling justified.
Think about this in another way, the persuasion Rules. Don’t you think that persuasion is an important part of work? Lots of time people are working on tasks that have many different options, sequences, and resources. How do you allocate? What’s first? Which is important? There’s uncertainty among people and you have to choose what to do. Wouldn’t persuasion skill be helpful here? Sure, so consider the Rules.
It’s About the Other Guy, Stupid!
If you are trying to multitask the first thing you lose sight of is the Other Guy. Multitasking focuses attention inside of you – which task you want to do, how you want to do it, how it connects with other tasks. You, you, you. Where’s the Other Guy in all of that?
All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.
Multitasking through social media is important to you. It marks you as the cool guy you are. It separates you from the lamers. It puts you one step ahead of the competition. It’s what you really believe. Which is great if you’re trying to persuade yourself, but not so great if you’re trying to persuade the Other Guy.
More Is the Enemy of Less.
Persuasion usually requires a relentless focus on the Other Guy with an eye toward a simple move to change Them. Multitasking is “more” rather than “less.” It adds layers of work, distance, and knowledge between you, the Other Guy, and the Change you seek.
Finally, who do you think is making more money on twitter today: You or the guys who run twitter?