At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference last week I was struck by the amount of multitasking going on during the sessions. This was a Twitter-oriented crowd, so there was a lot of lively conversation going on in the tweetsphere, and the conference organizers' inclusion of a hashtag for each session made it convenient to join the party online. Tweeting during the sessions was not only expected, in some sessions it was encouraged.
I saw lots of folks using applications like TweetDeck or TweetGrid to monitor multiple streams at once - for example, tuning in on the session they were sitting in as well as the one going on down the hall.
I also saw a fair amount of attendees getting work done - half-listening to the session while they responded to email or tweaked documents and presentations.
I will admit, I was one of the multitaskers. In the sessions where I abstained from opening my laptop and searching on the hashtag, I felt uncomfortably cut-off from the hive mind.
But I was also uncomfortable about all the multitasking. I know I didn't catch everything the presenters said. In some ways I got more out of the sessions by reading audience members' observations in real-time, but what did I give up to get that? And what did it do to the presenters, trying to keep their energy level up in front of large audiences whose attention seemed mostly elsewhere?
As a society, we are definitely heading in this direction: multi-channel communication, always-on, etc.. For all the employers who are worried about social tools in the enterprise being a "distraction" to employees, they may be. But those same employees are doing plenty of work outside the workplace - in airports, in conference sessions, at night in front of the television set, and on the weekends while they're with their families.
Why are we doing this? What if we stopped? Is relentless multitasking an addiction we could break, or is it an evolutionary drive?
I don't have the answers, and I'm certainly not the first to ask these questions. I'd love to hear from others on this - does this trend seem more beneficial or harmful overall - or is it pointless to question what simply is?
Read more about multitasking here:
Rubinstein, Meyer, and Evans study "Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching:"
NPR - John Hamilton proposes that we're not really as good at multitasking as we think:
The Atlantic - Walter Kirn on "the task of trying to be free:"