The NY Times has an article today about states legislating cell phone usage and texting while driving. It includes an interactive piece that demonstrates your level of distraction while texting. It’s a cool little piece, but I think it doesn’t demonstrate real-world scenarios and may be deceptive. The lane change decisions you have to make are steady, constant and rhythmic, rather than random and directed by the driver. Very often a driver can cruise in a lane for a while before needing to change lanes, but the game has changes every 5 seconds. Also, the texting doesn’t demonstrate how you might react to a real message. When asked to choose a pie from a list of options, I typed “peecan”. The message came back saying  it didn’t understand and I needed to write it again. Would a human being really not understand that  I’d like pecan pie, rather than apple?

It does demonstrate, however, that multitasking doesn’t work. Interacting with both the road and the cell-phone, you feel the stress of bouncing from one to the other. At times I just gave up on the road so I could type and spell correctly. I may have blown through a few toll-booth gates, but at least I knew I’d be getting ice cream on my pie, rather than whipped.

On the myth of multitasking, Christine Rosen writes:

For the younger generation of multitaskers, the great electronic din is an expected part of everyday life. And given what neuroscience and anecdotal evidence have shown us, this state of constant intentional self-distraction could well be of profound detriment to individual and cultural well-being. When people do their work only in the “interstices of their mind-wandering,” with crumbs of attention rationed out among many competing tasks, their culture may gain in information, but it will surely weaken in wisdom.