Computing Magazine

Media Multitasking: Does It Sharpen Our Cognitive Skills?

Posted on the 20 November 2012 by Nrjperera @nrjperera

Are you a digital media multitasker? If you have a smartphone, a TV, a laptop, a PC, and/or a tablet, the most likely answer is ‘yes’. Media multitasking refers to using two or more forms of multimedia simultaneously.This article will take a look at this growing trend and will explore how this trend affects both our attention span and our ability to do tasks. Lastly, we will take a look at how the newest personal electronic devices are facilitating this multisensory media experience.


Media multitasking has been on the rise in recent years, and this trend had piqued the interest of researchers in their pursuit of understanding of how people process information. An Ofcom study has shown that most people consume and interact with several different types of media at any given moment. This study has revealed that media can take up to 45 percent of our waking hours, and for many people – including those who work in the media industry as well as younger demographics – this percentage will be much higher.

It is a familiar scene for many. After work, people unwind by checking Facebook on their laptops, updating their Twitter feeds on their smartphone and watching the latest reality show on TV, all at the same time. Or, someone may watch a film at home with their family and read the latest headlines at the same time on a tablet or smartphone. This form of media multitasking is known as simultaneous consumption, and it has been shown to alter the way we take in and process information.

In an even more extreme scenario, many people are connected to social and Internet media at all times via their smartphones, constantly checking updates and messages. To this end, the Ofcom study revealed that those between the ages of 16 and 24 often experience 9.5 hours of “actual media time” in the span of 6.5 hours because of the use of multiple devices simultaneously.

Interestingly, this research also showed that the 55-and-older crowd consumed media primarily through TV and radio, and the 16-to-24-year-old group were connected through smartphones, computers, and tablets. Televisionreigns supreme, however, as it is still the most common method of channeling media into the homes of people of all ages.

According to a study from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, using multiple forms of media simultaneously is not only common, but it also may actually be good for you. Researchers found that people who used multiple media were better at using their senses to integrate information.

This study was comprised of volunteers filling out questionnaires about their media consumption, and then completing a task that involved both visual and auditory components. This experiment found that those participants who consumed multiple forms of media at the same time on a regular basis were better able to distinguish information during the experiment when multisensory factors (visual and auditory) were involved.

While most people still turn to the box on the corner – or more likely the flatscreen on the wall – for their nightly entertainment, there is a growing population of people who are using devices other than television to watch TVshows and movies on the go. Laptops and tablets are the new TVs for many people, including commuters, students and pretty much anyone who hasn’t invested in a TV but who still wants to keep up with ‘American Idol’.

This mobile TV trend is something that the mobile technology industry has taken note of, reacted to, and helped orchestrate through the release of apps and software which facilitate TV watching on a mobile device. For instance, the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet features apps that allow you to stream or download your favorite TV shows quickly and easily; these and other entertainment features are discussed in more detail in these BlackBerry PlayBook reviews. Another BlackBerry PlayBook review addresses the media multitasking trend by discussing the benefits of the BlackBerry Bridge. This feature allows the PlayBook tablet to seamlessly connect to your BlackBerry smartphone. This connection not only streamlines tasks, but also contributes to the multisensory experience elucidated by the above studies. You are able to effectively use more than one mobile device at the same time, maximizing both your efficiency and your possible media consumption.

Media multitasking is not only a popular trend in personal media consumption but it opens new methods for cross media advertising and communication. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops in the future as media platforms continue to become interconnected.

[Photo Credit - Flickr User Thomas Hawk]

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

Paperblog Hot Topics