About fifteen years ago, I discovered that multi-tasking music-listening with other involving activities exacted a very high price: The inability to enjoy concerts.
I wasn't surprised. The brain never really multitasks activities that require active participation; what it does is the same thing computers do: interweave the processes.
Well, for me music listening is sequential. I want to actually hear the length of the piece, enjoying the changes in rhythm and key, the melodies, the interplay of various voices. To do that, I find that my brain tunes out the rest of the universe (the same way a brain will tune out a constant pain we choose to ignore in order to accomplish a task more important than dealing with the pain -- check out long distance bicyclists). And that means I can't simultaneously engage in other activities requiring active participation.
For me, the problem was in reverse. Working on coding a program, writing an article, reading a book, eating a great meal, caring for the kids -- all these activities taught my brain to treat music as a white noise to be ignored!
When I found myself literally unable to concentrate on some great music by great performers at a live concert, I realized the price I was paying for constantly ''listening'' to music in the background. And I also realized that I hadn't been listening to that music at all.
That was when I started avoiding multi-tasking everything that was important to me. If I was going to eat a great dinner, I turned off the music and the television. I found I ate less and enjoyed it more. So multitasking is great where the activity is mundane and interweaving increases efficiency without creating unacceptable errors; but for those occasions that really matter, from the kitchen to the ... um ... other rooms, multitasking is a no-no.
So, yes, Ipods and their kin are cool devices and they extend the domains into which I can carry my music. But how I listen has become so personal for me that I don't see these extended opportunities as providing me any great advantage. Give me one for free and I will use it -- sparingly; otherwise, I'll wave to the rest of you while your jog on by -- perhaps you'll even notice me.
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