Multi-task This!

Sherry Turkle writes in Forbes this week about the tradeoffs incurred in our technologically-facilitated multi-tasking approach to the world.

She observes:

The self that grows up with multitasking and rapid response measures success by calls made, e-mails answered and messages responded to. Self-esteem is calibrated by what the technology proposes, by what it makes easy. We live a contradiction: Insisting that our world is increasingly complex, we nevertheless have created a communications culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think, uninterrupted. We are primed to receive a quick message to which we are expected to give a rapid response. Children growing up with this may never know another way. Their experience raises a question for us all: Are we leaving enough time to take our time on the things that matter?

This question is one which we in the training business ask a lot.  We find we are being asked to provide quality learning experiences which require a minimum commitment of time and attention from the learner.

When the learning experience is delivered via the desktop, we frequently find that learners are not permitted even the short time frames we announce as the likely requirements for attending to the program.  Learners’ managers expect them to “squeeze in” the training between the emails, phone calls and other tasks which are part of their daily responsibilities.

Even face-to-face training is not immune from these pressures. Where once learners would use breaks to check their voicemail, now they check their email and their instant messaging from the laptops on which they are taking notes or even the computer in the training lab.

Our technology has changed a lot, but our neurology has not kept pace. The truth is, we cannot, and therefore do not process information in “parallel”.  We just time-slice, rapidly moving our attention from one thing to the next. Changing human behavior remains one of the more challenging endeavors we undertake.  Successful change initiatives require time and the full attention of the intended audience audience.

Some organizations address the tyranny of interruption in meetings by explicitly stating that the meeting format will be “lids down”  – referring of course, to the laptops, but by extension, the cell phone and the blackberry.

It would behoove us as trainers to develop similar social technologies, if we don’t wish our programs to be completely undermined by the technology which makes them possible!