The Career Within You

Finding the perfect job for your personality

Are Social Media Making Us Stupid?

What multitasking and computer use does to us

Computer bride
“Computer Bride” from Are You My Type, Am I Yours?
Elizabeth Wagele
Stanford professor Clifford Nass argued that increasing use of media and social media erodes social and emotional development. “We’ve got to make face-to-face time sacred, and we have to bring back the saying we used to hear all the time, and now never hear, ‘Look at me when I talk to you.’”

Dr. Nass received his undergraduate degree in math and worked in computer science at Intel, where he helped develop the 286 computer chip. Then he got diverted to sociology and how people interact with technology. He founded Stanford’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab and was co-director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, which receives financing from major automakers. The goal is “to radically re-envision the automobile for unprecedented sustainability and enjoyment.” Dr. Nass died in the fall of 2013. This blog is based on William Yardley’s obituary of him in the NY Times 11-10-13.

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Nass spent more than 25 years “studying people as they confronted the constantly changing technology of the computer age—how they responded to simulated voices; the titillation of 24-hour news networks and smart phone swiping (we are naturally weak for endless streams of blather, whether on a television news crawl or Twitter); and the anxiety of operating (or not) a self-driving vehicle in the rapidly arriving future.” He found “the increasingly screen-saturated, multitasking modern world was not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyse or feel empathy,” according to Yardley.

“One of his most publicized research projects was a 2009 study on multitasking. He and his colleagues presumed people who frequently juggled computer, phone or television screens, or just different applications, would be skilled at ignoring irrelevant information, or able to switch between tasks efficiently, or possessed of a particularly orderly memory.

“’We all bet high mulitaskers were going to be stars at something,’ he said in an interview with the PBS program ‘Frontline.’ ‘We were absolutely shocked. We all lost our bets. It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another… One would think if people were bad at multitasking, they would stop. However, when we talk with the multitaskers, they seem to think they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more.’

“’With children doing more multitasking and people asked to do more of it at work,’ Nass said, ‘We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.’” 

Dr. Nass and his colleagues found people relate to their technological devices in a social way, and these relationships make their users feel good or bad. They’re not just tools—people think they’re real people.

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Elizabeth Wagele is the co-author with Ingrid Stabb of The Career Within You: How to Find the Perfect Job for Your Personality.

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