Multiple Dimensions of Multitasking Phenomenon

Multiple Dimensions of Multitasking Phenomenon

Lin Lin (Department of Learning Technologies, College of Information, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/jthi.2013010103
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Multitasking is defined as conducting two or more tasks simultaneously or switching quickly between two or more tasks. While multitasking is not a new concept, it has caught more attention in recent years. Whether one sees it as an illusion, a fad, a new phenomenon, or an evolving human capacity, it is important to establish a baseline of what activities are involved in multitasking for scholarly inquiries and discoveries. This paper examines the multitasking phenomenon through personal stories of 43 undergraduate students (age 21-29) and 30 children (age 6-11). The stories revealed a wide range of perceptions and experiences of multitasking, from walking while breathing, to doing homework while watching TV and surfing online, to texting while driving, and to performing complex professional skills. This vast range of experiences may have contributed to the varied views and debates on human beings’ capabilities of multitasking to date. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to bring to light the multiple dimensions of multitasking as it relates to attention, ability, expertise, technology, and environment. This endeavor serves as a foundation for further studies on human’s capacity for multitasking.
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Human multitasking, or multitasking, is a human behavior that allows people to handle dual tasks simultaneously or alternate multiple task switches (Baddeley, 1996; Gopher, Armony, & Greenspan, 2000; Lee & Taatgen, 2002; Meyer & Kieras, 1997; Roger & Monsell, 1995). Multitasking has been around for as long as humans have had competing needs, for instance, doing housework while watching a baby.

Hall (1959) introduced the concept of polychronicity based on how cultures perceived time. According to Hall, people who live in monochronic cultures view time as a linear concept and prefer to complete one task at a time. In contrast, people who live in polychronic cultures view time as cyclical and prefer to engage in more than one task simultaneously. Bluedorn (2001) defines polychronicity as the “extent to which people prefer to engage in two or more tasks or events simultaneously and believe that their preference is the correct way to do things” (p. 119). Much has changed since Hall’s work on cultural perception of time and task. The Internet, with its non-linear hyperlinks and sophisticated graphic features, has changed our habits of reading, searching, and obtaining information. Often, we are tempted to follow the hyperlinks and surf information from one page to another, rather than completing the information on a single webpage (Zumback, 2006). Switching between various web pages and program screens on the computer is just one example of a multitasking behavior.

Younger generations who have grown up with the convenience and trappings of technologies are surrounded by portable media (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Foehr, 2006; Roberts & Foehr, 2008). Such media provide constant connectivity to friends, schools, and families. As a result of the hyper-connectivity, younger users are layering media in between activities or on top of other activities (Gardner, 2008). Several studies completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation (Foehr, 2006; Roberts & Foehr, 2008; Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010) reported that children and teens spend an increasing amount of time multitasking and they manage to pack increasing amounts of media content into the same amount of time each day, for instance, surfing online while watching TV. Nearly one-third of the 8 to18-year-old respondents indicated that they either talk on the phone, instant message, watch TV, listen to music, or surf the Web for fun most of the time that they are doing their homework (Foehr, 2006; Roberts & Foehr, 2008). The most recent report showed that 8-18 year olds in the U.S. spend 7.38 hours on media daily and that these young people packed a total of 10.45 hours’ worth of content media into 7.38 hours of media use (Rideout, Foehr, and Roberts, 2010).

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