Considerations with Multitasking

Katherine Anthony
Reading Reaction, Week 2 – through the eyes of a journalist
I found the “Cognitive control in media multitaskers” reading to be extremely interesting – especially because my area of emphasis is in journalism. We have frequent discussions about the evolution of multitasking in media and the impact that has on attention span. From a content perspective, we write to appeal to an audience that has a short attention span and who is likely preoccupied and just wants the down and dirty facts. That’s where the inverted pyramid comes into play – most important details at the top and information becomes less important further down the piece.

That being said, the results are quite startling to me. While I think it makes sense to say that HMMs struggle to filter irrelevance, I don’t know that the distractions that they may encounter ignore the LMMs altogether. It certainly shows that it’s an easy distraction for HMMs but depending on what that distraction is, LMMs could be just as susceptible. In my opinion, the way that media is approached – at least “text” media – both print and online – the audience that is being catered to is actually the LMMs and not the HMMs since it is the LMMs who have the ability for top-down attention.

With the evolution and availability of different media platforms (cell phones, tablets, PCs, laptops, Smart TVs) since 2009, I wonder if these results would be the same today. The reason I’m curious about this is because, especially during population sport seasons, PIP (picture-in-picture) is heavily used to watch multiple games at the same time. However, you don’t often hear or see that the person consuming all of that media cannot differentiate between what is and is not relevant – aka what game had a significant moment over the others.

In support of the situation I just mentioned, The Verge recently did a follow-up to the NBC Olympic coverage (or lack thereof when it came to quality coverage) and they criticize their lack of PIP options for watching multiple events at once. That article can be found here:

Do you think that enough has changed in the last 7-ish years to repeat this study and compare for the change (if there is any and exploring why/why not)?

John Culliton
RE: Reading Reaction, Week 2 – through the eyes of a journalist
Hi Katie, Great article. I had never really considered the PiP option as a way to parallel the study until you mentioned it, but it makes sense. As you say, most people wouldn’t have a major issue remembering what event happened at what game. I wonder if the ability to utilize multiple media platforms without distraction could be impacted by “what” those platforms are providing. For instance, in PiP you may be watching multiple sporting events, which relate quite well. However, if the different platforms are providing a spread of unrelated information, such as Facebook photos, CNN news articles, and ESPN on in the background, which are unrelated topics, would the effects be the same? Thanks for the response. Jack-

Shelby Gosa
RE: Reading Reaction, Week 2 – through the eyes of a journalist
To expand on what you suggested, John, I would also wonder if the type of media has an effect?

For instance, radio is audio only. Information coming from places like Twitter and Facebook is text or reading only, the nightly news can be both audio and sight, etc. Some people are perfectly comfortable listening to the news on the radio while also reading articles online. Is there a difference in audio vs. sight related media? It would of course be difficult to listen to multiple audio things at once, but I would be interested in finding out what is more/less distracting, multiple media feeds with or without audio? Can you balance audio+visual feeds in the same way as you do multiple visual feeds? Is the level of distractedness different, or do audio feeds more or less equal visual feeds?

I feel as though the audio may have a significant effect, though one would have to take into consideration the tendency of the users to “tune out” things that they don’t want to hear.

Desarae Veit
RE: Reading Reaction, Week 2 – through the eyes of a journalist

I like that you brought up the correlation between types of media and whether or not they are distracting. I’m sure it is very much dependent on individuals, but I would like to use my coworker and myself as an example.

I have been doing UI/UX for over a decade and often like to listen to audio books while I work. I retain the information fine and even write book reviews on a blog, in my free time. I can only listen to the books when I code. It’s a lot the tunnel vision. If I’m in the groove I can complete a whole website, after the strategy is in place, without thinking too much about it. I can not do this while doing other tasks, like writing a paper.

My coworker likes to “multitask” with tabs but could never have other auditory distractions.

Katherine Anthony
RE: Reading Reaction, Week 2 – through the eyes of a journalist

That’s a really interesting question! Perhaps it’s an unexplored element of HMMs/LMMs in assuming that what they would be watching would be related (definitely what I did!). I don’t know that I’ve ever considered using PiP for multiple focuses – typically it’s all sports or all news – I hadn’t even thought to stream news while watching sports or vise-versa. But, to argue with myself, would it be considered low or high multitasking if you’re using PiP? Would someone be considered a LMM if they’re watching all one “subject” and a HGG if they’re watching different “subjects”?

PiP isn’t extremely new, though it’s rarely discussed unless it’s in criticizing something or someone — so while I thought the study that we read could have been viewed as outdated, I think it’s safe to say that it’s safe to say that it absolutely is outdated because of all of these new availabilities. Absolutely fascinating to think about. Thanks for bringing that up!

Desarae Veit
RE: Reading Reaction, Week 2 – through the eyes of a journalist

I did not consider the age of this study. Bravo to you for pointing that out. Considering smart phones and advancements in gaming, computers, and television- I would absolutely say this study could use an update. Who knows, maybe the data would be the same but I see a few factors in the original study that also gave me pause to question the data’s accuracy (discussed in my response). When I was growing up the internet was dialup (you remember the AOL discs?). It took minutes, sometimes well over 10 for one page to load. Now, we get mad or leave if a page takes more than .3 milliseconds to load (I read that in a study once but says 2-3 seconds). The same original study also discussed that most users only give pages 2-3 seconds to determine if it was relevant before deciding to leave or engage with the site further. My experience as a designer and someone who loves reviewing website analytics would correlate with that information, since my bounce rates seem to occur high and quickly on landing pages or almost not at all.

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