Furthermore, in an interview with Terri Gross on her NPR Fresh Air program Matt Richtel (the NYT reporter quoted in the previous post) drew an analogy between food and technology. Too little of either can impair effectiveness and vitality. Too much can lead to obesity, distraction, and actual neurological damage.
Incredible as it may sound, the evolutionary precursor to this problem is the fight or flight syndrome. Primitive man hears rustle in the bush, synapses fire, cortisol released, he runs or throws a spear. Repeatedly induced by some signal to check your device or screen, same chain of events ensues all be they separately more diminutive. Ill effects though are cumulative.
Research on rats show that it is during downtime that memories form and creativity is enhanced. “People need to take breaks.” Relatedly: multitaskers have more, not less, trouble filtering out irrelevance and staying focused. The more often you switch from one screen or device to another the greater the negative impact upon your effectiveness.
The reason you feel compelled to check is because of what’s called ‘intermittent reinforcement’. Rats again. If one in a cage knows that there will occasionally be a food pellet in its food dispenser, it will feel compelled to frequently check. Similarly, while most of the stuff in your inbox is such junk it might as well be empty, sometimes there are gems.
As mentioned in the previous post the researchers all felt a shift, if subtle, in their consciousness after the third day of their trip. Ms. Gross commented that she noticed a difference in hers when a weekend extends from two to three days.
I wonder if a similarly salubrious effect might be made possible in a shorter period by different conditions. Extenuating, say… Wife and I were under sail last night in our twenty foot/216 sq ft sailcloth C Scow. Breeze was way up and swells were big. Barge and other boat traffic. Last time we went over I broke ribs and wife’s eye was blackened.
Attention thus broadly drawn, there were no thoughts of Blackberry, office, bills, etc etc. Matter of fact there was no thinking. Way hiked out, minor adjustments in trim and body position were all that lay between full speed and swimming. Back ashore, we felt renewed and refreshed.
*”Fresh Air” on NPR 8/24/10
**Research shows that it’s riskier to talk on a cell phone while driving – even hands free – than having a conversation with a passenger. Passenger is even an asset: “they modulate their conversation – both topic and tone – based on what they see in front of them.”
***Sadly, Anne Franks’ tree went over last week. Happily someone had the foresight to plant seeds and saplings have been distributed around the world.