Is it possible that digital natives (millennials) will be better multitaskers?

Millennials and Multitasking

I almost jammed a pencil right in my cornea before I wrote another article talking about assumptions regarding millennials, because by now I think most of us realize those are all bullshit and may not come true in the way we expect. Then, instead of jamming a pencil in my cornea, I read this article on Harvard Business Review. The article basically is arguing that you need to maximize the talents of your people (agree, although no one gets this ever) and that the talents of your older people and your younger people will be different (agree) and that, because millennials are “digital natives” (actually, they’re mobile natives), you should give them jobs that are more social in nature. I disagree with this. I actually think it’s very different to “run” your own Instagram vs. running one for a brand, and that confuses a lot of people/organizations/hiring managers. But hey, I could be wrong there.

The one interesting element of the article was this section:

Second, constant, complex data flow. Research tells us that multitasking is impossible: people can only do two things at once if one of those things is routine. Also, those who regularly use multiple forms of media are more prone to distractionthan those who don’t. But, according to Nielson Neurofocus, EEG readings suggest that younger brains have higher multi-sensory processing capacity than older ones and are most stimulated – that its more engaged with and more likely to pay attention to and remember – dynamic messages. Millennials probably aren’t more effective multitaskers, in the strict sense of the world, but, in their current stage of brain development, they seem better able to tolerate and integrate multiple streams of information.

That is interesting. I personally think multi-tasking, as a concept, is a complete myth. But if you have a generation that came of age having to switch between screens all the time (watch TV, text their friend, do their homework, etc.), then maybe they can “multi-task” a little better, right? Maybe not in the true sense of the term, but in general.

I mean, you get better at things by doing them more, no? That’s the entire idea behind Macklemore and Malcolm Gladwell, right? (If you don’t get that joke, click here.) So if your parents didn’t necessarily have to constantly switch between screens and you did, wouldn’t you be better? So taken writ large, wouldn’t the newer generations be better at the concept?

I guess you could say this about any comparison of “old school” and “new school,” but the introduction of so much technology (and at easily-consumable levels) probably changes the dialogue a bit.


Ted Bauer


  1. Completely agree. There really is no such thing as true multi-tasking as the brain just pauses one activity to move to the other…but it appears that one is multi-tasking.

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