Sep 20
8:44 PM

The Myth of Multitasking

I saw a great presentation today "Examining the Myth of Multitasking and
Its Impact on Learning" by USD Psychology Professor Anne Koenig. It was
a dynamic presentation full of multimedia and audience participation.

The audience was comprised of college faculty and administrators —
likely lifelong high-achievers, many of them juggling families along
with their scholarship and teaching. I mention this to point out how
particularly noteworthy it is that by the end of the session, she had
most of us laughing at our own ineptitude, utterly convinced that we're
lousy at multitasking and that we should probably stop trying.

Now, I know multitasking is practically a religion in law
school, so I expect a little skepticism, but bear with me. You might
just find this as liberating as I did.

Our conscious mind is the part of our mind that allows us to assess a
situation, comprehend what we are seeing, problem-solve, and create a
memory that can be accessed later. The conscious mind is limited in its
capacity – it can only process one thing at a time. So, even when we
think we are multitasking, we are really just switching our attention
back and forth between tasks. The typical reason we give for
multitasking is to save time, but all that switching means that it
actually takes longer to accomplish both task than if you'd just
completed each task separately.

Our unconscious mind, on the other hand, can process multiple pieces of
information simultaneously, and works much more quickly than the conscious
mind. The unconscious mind allows us to do routine tasks that don't require the attention of our conscious mind.

Many of our everyday tasks
are so routine that there's simply no need for the conscious mind to
engage most of the time. So, you might think that so long as one of the
tasks is routine enough to be managed by the unconscious mind, you can
successfully accomplish two tasks at once. Unfortunately, there are
still two problems.

First, no matter how routine the task, it is occasionally going to call
your attention away from the other higher-order task you are trying to
accomplish. These intermittent periods of inattention, however brief,
negatively impact the quality of your performance of the higher-order

Imagine you are talking on the phone and folding laundry. The mindless
task of folding laundry, will only occasionally and
briefly distract your conscious mind from the demands of the phone
conversation. Your friend chatting about her day may not even notice
that you're briefly distracted as you check to see that you've match the
right socks together. And even if she does notice, she likely won't
think too badly of you. But imagine that phone conversation was a job interview — you
wouldn't want to be distracted even for a split second.

We all know
that when a task is extremely important, we should give it our full,
undivided attention. The obvious corollary, that's a little harder to
swallow, is that when we attempt two tasks at once, we are implicitly
choosing to perform each of them less than perfectly. Of course, that's
not an invalid choice. It's not the end of the world if you mismatch
your socks or have to ask a friend to repeat a sentence or two. It
really depends on how important your higher-order task is. Just don't
kid yourself that there's no trade-off.

The second problem is that even the most routine tasks can be
occasionally punctuated by the unexpected. This is most tragically
exemplified in the dangers of distracted driving. For experienced
drivers, the mechanics of driving are routine. We adjust the steering
wheel and regulate our speed without thinking. Sometimes, we can be
half-way to work and not remember leaving our driveway. And *most* of
the time, our unconscious mind is all we need to get us to our

The problem is when another driver unexpectedly swerves
into our lane, or there's debris in the road, or traffic suddenly stops
short. When the unexpected occurs, our unconscious mind cannot assess
and problem-solve the way our conscious mind can. If our conscious mind
is occupied with another task, there's a delay as it has to first
recognize that there's a more pressing safety hazard, and then figure
out how to respond. That's why hands-free laws only address part of the
problem of distracted driving.

It's tempting to think you're the exception to the rule. I think there
were more than a few of us in the room who weren't completely convinced
until she had us do these exercises:

1. Monkey Business: 
2. Whodunnit? Video: 
3. Tones & Letters: (this is similar though not identical to the exercise we did in the session)

I won't spoil the surprise here, but I highly encourage you to watch the
videos and try the exercises. It'll only take a few minutes and you might just come away with a commitment to minimize the multitasking in your life. [JML]

Sep 17
3:56 PM

The Upcoming 2012-2013 U.S. Supreme Court Term

The Supreme Court will reconvene next month to begin another
year full of landmark decisions.  Among
the most anticipated of cases on the calendar is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, an affirmative action case
that will address the use of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions
decisions.  The Court is also expected to
review cases involving same sex marriage, abortion, voting rights, and campaign

Keeping up-to-date on the Supreme Court’s schedule is a
great way to stay current on legal issues, especially during law school when you
will find that SCOTUS decisions often overlap with course material.  For more information and to stay in-the-know,
check out the links under “US S. Ct” on the right-hand side of this blog. [REG]

Sep 11
1:26 PM

Free Lexis Searching After Graduation? California Only

those who have grown dependent on electronic case searching (and really, who
hasn’t?), there is some good news for your post-subscription access days.  The state of California has partnered with
LexisNexis to provide FREE access to California official case law.  See
(please note that this site is intended for personal, rather than commercial,

the available search fields are much more limited than in Lexis’
subscription-based service.  Here, there
are three main search options: by court (CA Courts of Appeal and/or CA Supreme
Court); by keyword using natural language; and by date.  Choosing narrow search criteria is recommended,
because this free service will only display up to 25 relevant cases for each
search.  On the positive side, this limit
should help you in crafting and refining your search terms, as you will want a
concise list of relevant cases, and a set of 25 cases is relatively manageable.  Additionally, there is no limit to the number
of searches allowed, so feel free to be creative and try different search

As a free-of-charge search system,
it certainly lacks the bells and whistles to which we became accustomed in law
school – for example, Shepardizing is not available through this service – but it
is still an excellent tool to have at your disposal, so check it out sometime!

Sep 6
10:03 AM

Study Aids in the Reserve Room

Get a jump on outlining with Nutshells, Examples & Explanations, CrunchTime, and many more available in the LRC Reserve Room (1st floor near the Circulation desk).  Study aids are available for a 3-hour check out. [MF]