A typical day in my life consists of sitting in an uncomfortable chair around a conference room table, discussing problems and solutions. To make such meetings more bearable and interesting, I like to challenge my mind to listen (and even participate from time to time) while multi-tasking in my mind. Such multi-tasking elicits blog post ideas, grocery store lists, emails I have to construct later, vacation plans etc.
Just yesterday, while in a board meeting, I was deep in my typical multi-task meeting mode (otherwise known as MTMM) and looked up to see the three other GenX’ers in the meeting doing the very same thing. One was texting the other who was sitting down the table, another looking at his calendar on his iPhone, another googling a topic we were discussing in the meeting. Before you lambast us for using our smart phones while in a meeting take note of this…of the 25+ people in this meeting, 70% of those participating in the meeting were the very same GenX’ers. We were engaged, we were participating, we were focused, we were all in MTMM.
GenerationX is the first generation to have grown up adapting to rapid changes in technology and connectivity. Unlike the millenials who were born into a world where electronic multi-tasking (such as emails, texting, SMS, IM) is the norm, or the boomers who have had to make an extra effort as adults to adapt to using technology…generation X was the first to put connectivity to work, professionally and personally.
Paving the electronic connectivity road for younger generations while acting as a model for older generations may have a cost. As discussed in a recent New York Times article titled “Your Brain on Computers: Hooked on Gadgets and Paying the Mental Price“, the curse of electronic multi-tasking can be high.
However, the skeptical and analytical X’er in me points out that all multi-taskers, electronic or otherwise, must always weigh costs and benefits. Electronic connectivity has not changed the necessity for balance. The appeal of the anytime anywhere multi-tasking that connectivity allows only amplifies what we’ve known for ages-we must weigh the benefit of being connected with the cost to authentic human connection. A topic worthy of its own blog post.
So my answer to the title of this post is…connectivity is a gift with strings. I’m proud to be a part of a generation and time that has made technological connectivity work. If you don’t share my love for MTMM, I challenge you to consider the benefit next time you see an X’er or Millenial electronic multi-tasking. Ask them how they balance the benefits with the costs. You might just learn something.
For those of you who do enjoy a little electronic multi-tasking, test your ability to focus with this distractibility test created at Stanford. I bet you can’t beat my score.