Sunday, August 29, 2010

Your Brain On Computers

Over the past year and a half, I have noticed the steady retardation of my attention span. It has become progressively obvious that I have a difficult time passing the day without a constant barrage of digital stimulation. Today, as I was driving to my parents house, I heard a fascinating interview with Matt Richtel, technology reporter for the New York Times, on NPR's Fresh Air. Richtel recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his series "Driven to Distraction", a discussion of the perils of media consumption while driving. In fact, Richtel's writing provided the impetus for many cities and states to enact texting-while-driving legislation. However, today Richtel discussed his current journalistic series, "Your Brain on Computers". In the interview, Richtel explored the scientific research examining technology's effect on the brain. It seems that I am not the only one losing my attention span. Though technology has profoundly improved our daily lives, it has also deteriorated our mental capacity. We in the digital age have a more difficult time focusing, a shorter attention span, an impaired memory, and an increasingly unhealthy addiction to technology's buzz.

This interview and Richtel's articles, which you can read at the links below, left me with tough questions to ask myself about my own digital consumption. In fact, I may be taking a 30 day fast from Twitter as a result. The articles are not lengthy and are well worth your time. I have inserted a quote from each article below the link to give you a quick and dirty summary of what each article details. Furthermore, I realize the irony of posting articles about the dangers of digital media consumption here on a blog. I guess I'll just have to take the risk.

- Joel

"Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying A Mental Price" (June 7, 2010)
"Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone's brain thinking," said Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford. "But we've got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can't ignore it."

"Studying the Brain Off the Grid, Professors Find Clarity" (August 16, 2010)
It is a debate that has become increasingly common as technology has redefined the notion of what is “urgent.” How soon do people need to get information and respond to it? The believers in the group say the drumbeat of incoming data has created a false sense of urgency that can affect people’s ability to focus.

"Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Much Needed Down Time" (August 24, 2010)
The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

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