rebelling against low expectations

Generation M, for Multitasking


Our generation multitasks constantly. Chances are that some of you won’t even be able to finish this article without checking your email — while others are already listening to music or IMing a friend. In fact, a recent Yahoo! and OMD conducted survey says that you’re probably doing three to four other tasks while surfing the Internet.

Though multitasking has long been epitomized by the corporate executive, it has more and more become a characteristic of the modern teenager — especially when it comes to media consumption.

A 2005 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that even while young people are spending an absurd amount of time on the phone, listening to the radio, surfing the Internet, and watching TV (50 hours per week, and that doesn’t even include movies, music or email) the actual amount of media content we consume is far greater due to our ability to interact with more than one medium at a time. Other studies show that teens are packing up to 44-hours of activity into a 24-hour day by doing multiple things at once — that’s nearly a 50% jump!

Consider the following narrative by Heather, an 11th-grader from Chicago:

“Last night, I was watching “Sex in the City” on TiVo with my friend and my dad. I heard this song. I really wanted to download it, but I didn’t know what it was called. So, first I went online and I tried to download. I couldn’t, but then I was online. One of my friends who had been out of town was back, and I saw him online and we started talking. Then I went back to watch “Sex in the City.” I just kept going back and forth. I was eating ice cream too. Then I checked my email. It was late at night. It was getting later. So I was just talking to people. No one really went out because it was Father’s Day.”

Many laud such development as progress — I mean, Heather was spending time with her family, connecting with friends, eating ice cream, checking her email, watching TiVo, and doing research at the same time! But one has to wonder at the quality of the time Heather spent with her father that Father’s Day. In fact, several questions come to mind as I read her description of a seemingly typical night.

For instance, regardless of what it was, does she remember anything about the show she was watching? She couldn’t locate the song she was looking for — did she ever go back and find it? Finally, she seemed to be talking to a lot of people (albeit, not the people she was actually with), but did she feel like she drew closer to any of them?

In an era where it has become routine to conduct six IM conversations, watch TV and Google the names of last season’s American Idol finalists all at the same time, such questions must be asked not only of Heather, but of ourselves. Though multitasking has been around for ages, it is our generation that has been dubbed, among other things, Generation M — M for Multitasking.

The modern level of multiprocessing and interpersonal connectivity is now so commonplace that our generation, who have grown up with it, just don’t realize how recent of a phenomenon it actually is. Eight years ago (1998, when I was nine) most home computers weren’t even linked to the Internet.

Think about it: We are the first generation of teenagers to have high-speed, wireless Internet access. We are the first generation of teenagers to widely use cellphones. We’ve learned to juggle a myriad of doodads and options — text messaging, search engines, PDA’s, blogs, Wi-Fi, and cell phones that try to do all of the above. Most significantly, we’ve been promised that we haven’t seen anything yet.

If all this is true, and it is, then there is a tremendous need for us to step back and reassess our generation’s proclivity for multitasking. As life gets faster and faster and technology continues to advance we’ve got to stop texting long enough to ask ourselves whether we’re really more efficient when we multitask. How does this “juggling show” we allow ourselves to put on affect our productivity, our thought life, and our relationships?

Read: Intro / Productivity / Thought Life / Relationships / Closing

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • This post is good! I am looking forward to the next one. I have noticed that it is getting harder for people to stay focused on one task without taking a break to do something more entertaining. This is sad since we get the most out of our activities when we spend large blocks of time focusing on one thing at a time.

  • Wow, what a great post. I hadn’t ever really thought about multi-tasking like that…but it’s true.

    Great post…can’t wait for the next one!

  • When it comes to entertainment our culture has definitely seen a boom. It is as if Americans are holding out their arms to grasp any form of media they can get a hold of and want to take it all in at the same time. “Multi-tasking” on entertainment is like eating as much candy as you can while it’s in front of you to “save time” later. It’s not healthy and the extra time you think you’ll get from it seems to slip away mysteriously…

    There are definitely forms of multi-tasking that are positive and often necessary for life, but I am guessing you will address that in one of your upcoming posts. 🙂

    I can’t wait to read the next one!


  • Great post!

    I think Danielle is right. Modern “multitasking” appears to be shortening the attention spans of our youth.

    Having muliple things going at the same time (much of which I believe would be impossible without computers) has its place, as long as we can focus on a single important task when the time comes.

    I’m looking forward to reading part 2. 🙂

  • Guys, this phenomenon is so true. And, as you say, it just keeps growing and growing.

    I wonder if “multi-tasking” is really just a synonym for our lessening attention spans? The fact that we flick back and forth so rapidly between one activity and the next could mean that this generation gets bored too easily. We’re always after stimulation [translate: entertainment?]. Sadly, I’ve seen it evident in my own life, and God’s working on it right now.

    Thanks for inspiring us to think!

  • This post was really good for me. A normal night for me consists of IMing people, emailing, working on school papers, and watching TV or listening to music. I think maybe I need to slow down now. Thanks so much for this post!


    I am a 43-year-old male who graduated from Bible college with a BA in Bible, minoring in Youth Ministry and Biblical Languages. While listening to Albert Mohler’s podcast, I was introduced to your late podcast and blog/forum/Website. As a studier of youth ministry, I keep tabs on things our youth their culture are doing.

    In your article re multitasking, I cannot help but wonder if it is we adults who should share the part of the blame for our next generation of multitasking youth. In an age where credit card debt is begun by attempting to “keep up with the Joneses”, climbing the ladder of material success, having double-income families to afford putting our children through the best of schools (e.g. re-living our dreams through them!), are we not teaching our children and perpetuating the cycle of our “success” through multitasking?

    I know that for me, I have found the same conclusions you have drawn: multitasking can lead to less effectiveness in ALL attempted tasks! Thankfully, such books as Getting Things Done by David Allen has helped me focus more at work.


    You hit the nail on the head when you talked about multitasking, but I rarely use the Internet at all. In fact, this is one of those times. I’m only allowed on our PS2 when I play DDR(Dance Dance Revolution), and I’ve never even been able to use anyone else’s cell phone. I rarely watch TV. But I do multitask sometimes. It’s partly the fault of the media and every electronic company and corperation, but it all boils down to our choices.

    Love in Christ,

  • Hi, my name is Jesse, and I am a multi-tasker. Today I was checking my email, looking on several websites for info about a minivan my family hopes to buy, purchasing business cards, and looking at some cool knifes. All at the same time, thanks to the wonders of tabbed browsing. I realize that this behavior can at times be useful, but at others end up causing trouble, say when I am supposed to be studying for college, or doing my math. I need to get offline, and get my school done!
    Thanks for the blog!


  • Oh my! Just before I went to this particular post, I had checked my email for probably the 8th time since I’ve been on this blog. There was nothing there, by the way. 🙂 But, yes, I definitely see this in my own life. Mostly limited to doing two or three things at once, but it’s still there. A lot of the time all it is is laziness. “Oh, while this screen is loading, I’ll go check my (email/Facebook/MySpace/whatever).” Definitely a problem with short attention spans.

  • This is a great post!:) I only have one question: What on earth is a rebelutionary doing wathing a movie titled “Sex in the city” ? If it’s a Christian movie they picked the wrong title. I wonder what it’s rated. If anyone knows please leave a reply.

  • This is very true. I’m only allowed on 2 restricted sites (counting this one), and I have
    e-mail, but I still hop around on them, doing nothing, just enjoying being online, and wasting time. Now that school has started, it is hard for me not to just DO MY SCHOOLWORK, I also have to check my e-mail, and both websites, EVERY TIME. Gotta stop that!
    That is going on my “goal” list!! (along with getting up earlier!) Thanks for the post!

  • Oh my goodness! an incredible post dude. Appreciate it Even so I are going to be experiencing problem with ur rss . Do not know why Can not enroll in it. Could there be any person finding identical rss problem? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

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rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →