Context-switch ConversationsFri, 17th Oct '03, 7:30 pm::

In the past hundred thousand years since man has communicated his emotions to his peers through verbal or physical gestures, never has he faced the emotional complexity that the everyday AIM conversation solicits. In one of my computer classes, I'm learning about something called: Context or Task Switching. I realized the same thing happens in my brain while chatting with more than one person - instantaneous switches between multiple moods and personalities. In one tiny window, I could be talking to Art and telling him how something is not going right and in another window chatting with Kat, I become all excited at her wonderful news from the family front. Then talking to Tay, I remain calm, comforting, and give the best advice I can offer so that he can salvage his 2,500 music files after iTunes "organized" them without permission. Another window, I'm laid back, discussing the pros-and-cons of reading books before watching the movie, with Jen. And back to Art, I wail how the hell might I get out of this current problem. All of this happens at the same time; my brain has about 1/100th of a second to switch between wise-and-composed to neurotic-and-whiny. I do this everyday. And everyone I know who chats online, does this everyday.

This doesn't seem to be an out of the world experience either. It's something very common and everyone I know is quite accustomed to it. However, from a psychological evolutionary point of view, this is something that is entirely new, brought upon us by the dot-com generation. Our personalities and behaviours change depending on who we are interacting with at any given moment. Around your teachers or customers, you put on a helpful or obedient mask, and around your friends, you quite possibly take off that mask. Right now, people who chat online, do the same, except 100 times an hour. Maybe this is something I noticed and probably doesn't deserve an observation. Or maybe this is something that requires intense research, to learn what happens to an individual's personality, after he or she is subjected to such rapid context switching for 6 years online. I am not a psychology major, but I feel the effects of chatting with multiple people simultaneously should not be ignored. Various psychological aspects of the computer life have been extensively studied, from causing social anxiety and reclusiveness to increased violence among video game players. However, I wonder why nobody has tried to explore whether engaging in multiple simultaneous conversations online increases the probability of developing or worsening Dissociative Disorders. Any Psych majors reading this? Tamara?

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