Is Multitasking Ethical?

Wired Man
Wired Man

Whether we’re compelled by an urge for productivity or a chronic lack of time, many of us spend our days multitasking. Even though there are serious questions about the true efficacy of multitasking, many feel that we simply have no choice.  While some say this is just the new reality in today’s world, others point to research that indicates that human multitasking is a myth:

As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth — and they have the data to prove it.

Humans, they say, don’t do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly.

This suggests that when we try to multitask, we’re really just doing multiple things serially with less than full focus.  Depending on the circumstances, that can be delightful (e.g., listening to music while doing household chores), dumb (e.g., having a serious “relationship” conversation while watching a sporting event on TV) or even dangerous (e.g., texting while driving).  But have you considered the ethics of multitasking?

All lawyers in active practice in New York are required to attend ongoing education sessions in order to earn a specified number of continuing legal education (CLE) credits and, thereby, remain in good standing.  In a recent post about “Blackberryheads” on the Legal Ethics Forum, renowned legal ethicist Stephen Gillers challenged lawyers by asking,

Is it ethical to claim CLE credit for a talk on legal ethics if you’ve spent nearly the entire time a captive of your Blackberry? Or laptop? Or editing a brief? Or reading a book on your iPad?

Even if you’re not a lawyer, is it ethical to give only partial attention to the task at hand?

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[Photo Credit: Mike Licht]

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