Too Much Internet Can Ruin Your Ability to Focus on Other .. .Oooo, a New Twitter Alert
In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows.Those consequences, apparently...
The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”
OK, so like, I already pray for Ritalin to fall like manna from heaven (or at least to be added to our water supply like Florine) so noticeable is my inability to focus like I used to (I've attributed it to a busy lifestyle, or age, or the repercussions of too many cocktails), but what to do? Stop blogging? Delete my Facebook account? Switch back to a phone that doesn't receive email and simply let my contacts know that after 6:00 their messages won't be seen until the next morning?
Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.
These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.
The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people ... these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life. [emphasis mine]
While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.
That might not make much difference, actually:
[S]cientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.I know...someone needs to invent a new website that emails me prompts to remember to focus!
Interestingly, the research doesn't suggest a cold-turkey approach, but merely disciplined consumption:
“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.The article looks at a wide range of impacts on users' lives (concluding mostly that such technology is driving us apart), but I wanted to focus (if I can!) on why this would seem to be important for the arts. Again, the researchers claim that these habits "can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought." Of course the least concrete word in that statement is "can." Does that mean that for some folks these habits do not impact their creativity or deep thought? Do they possibly even increase creativity or deep thought for some people?
We attended an info-party last week hosted by Boyd Level for the San Jose-based, but becoming global "art and technology network," ZERO1, whose primary public activity is the 01SJ Biennial, but they're also supporting many other smaller projects as well. One of the projects discussed at the event was an upcoming multimedia, interactive piece called Plug-in-Play designed my members of the Interaction Lab at Rockwell Group. Rather than suggesting the technology we're embracing necessarily will drive us apart, this project speculates on what it can connect us:
Plug-in-Play represents a playground of ideas related to how we engage our urban environments. By taking a number of objects –some existing and some placed – in San Jose City Hall Plaza and connecting them to the building via oversized theatrical plugs, we suggest a new type of environment where social interactions, citizenship, and personal activities are more dynamically reflected. Using a projected environment on the facade of the City Hall we are able to display both physical and virtual activity in the plaza. The resulting effect is an attempt to create a more accurate representation of the vitality and complexity of our urban environments.I would tend to agree that the best chance for enduring, if not thriving in, the "vitality and complexity" of the 21st Century is to open our minds to a wider range of interconnectivity, not over-react and entirely unplug so we can live like pioneers again. It's not surprising that we're struggling to find the right balance between online and offline life. It's all very new. And so new etiquette and best practices needs to be developed to go along with the new reality. If we can only focus on those efforts long enough between Tweets...
UPDATE: Joerg Colberg kindly points us to this earlier article on the same focus-shattering impact of the web.
UPDATE 2: Apparently this topic is all over the place. But not everyone agrees. [links via C-Monster].