Let’s talk about Multitasking again!

Confessions of a multitasker

I am a multitasker; I’m doing it now.

There are a group of people sat around me discussing something, it’s a discussion that I could contribute too, but I’m also writing this blog post, I’m also allowing my iPhone to interrupt me. I’ve done this on many occasions and every time I do it I tell myself that I’m not going to do it again, so why am I doing it? The lie that I am telling myself is that the discussion doesn’t need all of my attention and I would be better spending my time doing something useful. I am kidding myself and every time you do something similar you are kidding yourself.

(I’ve been writing this blog post for over 40 minutes now and written 104 words. If I’d gone off to a quiet corner and really engaged I would have finished this post already. I’ll leave you to judge, but I suspect the quality of the words would be better as well.)

A recent report from the World Economic Forum based on some research from Stanford University, University of London and Sussex University highlighting the consequences of all of this multitasking which is probably more damaging than we might imagine.

Some of the report states what has been known for some time:

Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Repeat those words to yourself a few times: “your brain can only focus on one thing as a time”.

The report goes further, not only are you being less productive in the moment, the research is starting to point towards the impact being longer term:

It was long believed that cognitive impairment from multitasking was temporary, but new research suggests otherwise. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

While more research is needed to determine if multitasking is physically damaging the brain (versus existing brain damage that predisposes people to multitask), it’s clear that multitasking has negative effects.

So there you have it, there’s no advantage to be gained from multitasking, yet, we continue to tell ourselves that we are gaining something from trying to do two things at once. This isn’t the only situation where we behave illogically, but it is a growing madness as screens continue to proliferate.

Personally, I’ve been trying to build a set of practices which insulate me from the temptation to multitask. When i get home I’m trying to leave my iPhone somewhere out of reach and preferably out of view. I’m trying to take notes on paper in meetings, leaving the screens in my bag. When I have screen time I’m practising closing all applications apart from the one I’m focused on. I’m practising scheduling my days on a piece of paper. Another practice is to spend time in each day in silence or with quiet music without screens giving my brain time to calm down. What are your practises?

(It eventually took me two hours to write this post while multitasking which I did as a bit of an experiment to highlight the challenge. Hopefully the practices will reduce the time I’m multitasking and hopefully there isn’t any lasting damage to my brain.)

“It’s the Demography, Stupid” – Understanding the impact of population surge and shifts.

I don’t think that a day goes by without me hearing, or seeing, the word Millennials. Sometimes it feels like it is everywhere. Whilst the level of exposure seems to be reaching a crescendo I fist started writing about the generation in 2010 and have written a number of articles since:

The term Millennials refers to a generation which is, itself, loosely defined by demography. Some terms transcend their first meaning and that is what has recently happened to Millennials. It only really applies to the population in western countries and to people with a birth year in the mid-1990s through to the early 2000s, but seems to have become a term for anyone of the younger generations globally.

The Millennial generation is most regularly contrasted with the Baby Boomers who were born in the period after the Second World War through to 1964. The Baby Boomer generation was a huge cohort following the low birth rate during the wartime period of the early to mid-1900’s. This resulted in much younger average ages in the western countries and a huge explosion in the workforce which then facilitated significant economic growth. Those Baby Boomers are now moving into retirement and starting to become dependent on the generations younger than them, generations with much smaller cohorts.

The title of this post isn’t mine, it’s the name of a recent programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 which looks at the shifts in population such as that of the Baby Boomer generation, but also the impact of the One Child policy in China and the slow down of population growth across Africa. The programme gives a really great view of the impact of these population shifts within and between the generations, with a particular UK perspective. If you are a member of the Baby Boomer generation, Generation-X or the Millennial generation you should listen to this programme.

How is population change transforming our world? Think of a python swallowing a pig: a big bulge makes its way slowly down the snake from the head end to the other end. That’s a bit like what’s happened to the UK demographically. The baby boom generation – which has changed Britain politically, culturally and economically – is now retiring. That means a large bulge of pensioners with big implications for the generations that come behind them.

Personally I sit in Generation-X, between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. As a I look to my parents generation I see the promises that were made to them regarding their retirement and understand their desire to see those promises delivered. Likewise I look at my children and see the financial and social burdens that those promises are resulting in. It’s a huge demographic challenge that has been masked by a significant volume of immigration, in the UK at least. But that immigration has, itself, created other cultural challenges which the Baby Boomers have found particularly difficult to handle. Recent elections in the UK and the US have demonstrated these challenges.

One of the factors that has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride in the last 50 years has been the UK dependency ratio, this is the ratio between those working and those being supported by those working. This seems to be a pretty good indicator of the burden I described above:

The higher the ratio the higher the burden on those working, the lower the ratio, the lower the burden. The last few years have seen a significant shift upwards.

This is the year of the 70th birthday, the year when more people in the UK celebrate their 70th birthday than ever before. It won’t be long before we are celebrating their 80th birthday, I wonder what our dependency ratio will be when that happens? I wonder how long it will be before the percentage of the population aged over 65 will pass 20%?

Numbers give us insight, how we respond to those insights is what defines the future. My concern is that we are currently making decisions that will impact our future, but without the insights.

This isn’t just a UK challenge though, at a global level it looks like the dependency ratio has reached the low point and is expected to start rising driven by a growth in China:

Data from the World Bank, this site is a great place to get insights.

Facebook and Google dominate the 2016 Top 10 US Smartphone Apps List

According to data from nielsen the most popular smartphone application in the US in 2016 was Facebook, but that’s not the only Facebook asset in the top 10 – Messenger is #2 and Instagram is #8.

The Facebook number is impressive at over 146 million average unique users per month. The US population now stands at around 324 million which means that over 45% of the US population uses Facebook on a smartphone every month.

The other dominant force on the list is Google who take places #3 to #7 with YouTube at the top of the list at over 113 million average unique users.

The two remaining spots on the list go to Apple and Amazon.

The Amazon app is also the fastest growing application in percentage terms with Google Search and Google Play in the slower growth lane:

“Just because you identify with a stereotype…”

“Just because you identify with a stereotype does not mean that you need to embody it.”

Anonymous

Your data in their hands | When was the last time you read a privacy policy?

Last week Evernote got themselves into a public relations storm by updating their terms and conditions relating to privacy of data. They then had to hastily update the policy, stating that they would no longer be making the changes as planned.

The other month I wrote about digital exhaust, but there’s a lot of data that we place into others hands deliberately. When you type an email, upload a file, fill in an online form do you think about who may have access to that data? I’m not sure we often give it the consideration it deserves.

You should assume that the data is going to live forever, so our actions have lasting consequences, and so do the actions of those people who have access to our data.

Each of us have signed up to many terms and conditions that have included privacy statements, but few of us have read any of them.

Those privacy policies were mostly written for a relatively static world but we are entering a new era of data privacy concerns as more of our data gets given to artificial intelligence and machine learning to assess and give value on. That was one of the aspects of the Evernote situation:

“Human beings don’t read notes without people’s permission. Full stop. We just don’t do that,” says O’Neill, noting that there’s an exception for court-mandated requests. “Where we were ham-fisted in communicating is this notion of taking advantage of machine learning and other technologies, which frankly are commonplace anywhere in the valley or anywhere you look in any tech company today.”

Evernote CEO Explains Why He Reversed Its New Privacy Policy: “We Screwed Up”

The reality is that Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple have both been using machine learning for a long time, that’s how they know to tells us interesting things like pre-warning us about traffic problems on our journey home when we haven’t told them where home is.

Most of the time we don’t even give the privacy of our data a thought, and we should. Did you know:

  • Many site reserve the right to change the terms without telling you.
  • Many services claim copyright over parts, or all of your data.
  • Some sites don’t let you delete your account.
  • Many sites track you on other sites.

It’s terms like these that enable adverts for an item I searched for just a few minutes ago to now be showing in my Facebook.

When was the last time you checked the PrivacyGrade of an app before you downloaded it? Or check Terms of Service: Didn’t Read before agreeing to the terms on a site? I suspect that for most of my readers they’ve never visited these sites.

Ultimately the only lever that we have over these services is the commercial one and most of them aren’t going to do anything to jeopardize that, but that won’t stop them pushing up against the edges of what we regard as acceptable. What we regard as acceptable is greatly influenced by whether we feel like we are getting something for free.

This constant pushing against the barriers will then influence what the next generation regard as acceptable. The Facebook privacy policy runs to 2719 words and was last updated on the 29th September 2016. Even if I had read the privacy policy in when I started using it I couldn’t tell you how many iterations it had been through or what changes had been made.

We are trading our privacy for access and I’m not sure we really understand the cost.