I was surrounded by teenagers for the last couple of weeks and had a chance to marvel at their skills as multitaskers. Adolescents can simultaneously speak on the telephone, type e-mails, listen to ipods and have a conversation (albeit not a long one); how do they manage it?
Through brain imaging of 11 to 14 year olds (American Journal of Physiology, December 2006) scientists have revealed that adolescents develop the part of their brains requiring short neuronal chains. That’s why they have such incredible hand eye coordination that’ll annihilate you in computer games, can memorize the lyrics of 100 rap tunes, and recite complete movie dialogues.
Thinking and reasoning, however, seem to be less developed because information processing and high-level reasoning require longer neuronal chains and fully developed frontal lobes; that only happens in one’s twenties. The teens are rapidly pruning away at their neuronal connections, getting rid of unnecessary wiring to make room for complex problem-solving,
As a culture, we are in the adolescence of the Information Age. Only in the last 15 years has computer technology been at our fingertips, allowing us to become masters in multitasking.
In the December 2006 issue of the journal Neuron, scientists reveal how the brain loses much of its efficiency when it tries to handle two tasks at once. Using a cell phone while driving a car is dangerous because it delays a driver’s response time, and a one second delay at 60 miles per hour can be fatal. They also found that it takes people an average of 15 minutes to return to their serious work-related tasks after responding to incoming e-mail and instant messages.
We are Computer Age adolescents who have mastered short connections and instantaneous gratification; it’s time to grow up and make some rest stops on the information superhighway.
The primary task in this age is to prune our adolescent multitasking brains and learn how to manage our technology instead of merely yielding to its incessant tug.