Multitasking - UW Information School iNews - Fall 2009 - David Levy

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Multitasking and stress
Teaching techniques to bring back concentration and focus
By Mary Lynn Lyke

iSchool Professor David Levy

Technology is supposed to improve our lives, free up time to think, to create. David Levy, an iSchool professor and dedicated meditator, wonders if the opposite hasn’t happened. We Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Google, skim, scan, text-message, and instant-message half-engaged in "hmmm...what?" conversations as we madly multitask.

Where, asks Levy, is the quiet time to reflect, focus, truly connect? What will happen to children who know everything about high-speed connection and nothing about the slow contemplation that leads to creativity and discovery?

"This is a dangerous trend for society if it becomes our dominant way of living our daily lives," he says. "There’s nothing wrong with split-focus for periods of time, but when we’re not giving our full attention to anything, it reduces our humanity and our effectiveness."

Attention is clearly on the wane. The typical office worker now checks email more than 50 times a day, visits more than 40 Web sites, and instant-messages 77 times. To address the onslaught of interruption and inattention, Levy has helped launch an experiment in Seattle and San Francisco he calls "contemplative multitasking." Backed by National Science Foundation funding, researchers are training workers in meditation techniques and then measuring their effectiveness on the job. Could these techniques reduce stress and increase concentration?

Levy is also looking to develop contemplative training programs at public libraries. "People go there now to read. They could also go there for tools to deal with overload and acceleration," says Levy, who earned degrees in computer science and artificial intelligence at Stanford University before moving to London to study calligraphy and bookbinding.

His role, he says, is to "bring the spirit of calligraphy to the digital age."

"There has been no real slow down since then," says Levy. "The pace has just continued to increase."

Fall 2009  |  

Multitasking - UW Information School iNews - Fall 2009 - University of Washington iSchool