By NANCY MAAS, Editor in Chief, Wireless Design & Development
There is a lively debate going on among scientists over whether technology’s influence on behavior and the brain is good or bad, and how significant it is. 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 interruptions and a deluge of information.
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. And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persists when your brain is shut off and in need of its “computer fix.”
But try to imagine life without the ability to multitask. Imagine going to work and being forced to do only one thing at a time. For most of us, boredom would set in almost immediately.
However, technology use can benefit the brain in other ways, according to researchers. Imaging studies show the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding information and demonstrate increased brain activity compared to non-users, suggesting they were growing their neural circuitry.
Cell phones and computers have transformed our lives for the better, in my opinion. They allow people to escape the restrictions of their cubicle and work from anywhere at any time, reducing stress and possibly improving their outlook. Technology can make the tiniest snippets of time entertaining and potentially productive. But have we become addicted to our devices?
The consumption of media has exploded in recent years. In 2008, people consumed three times the amount of information each day as they did in 1960. Computer users at work change windows, or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows. The reality is we never stop multitasking, and quite possibly, are depriving our brain of much needed downtime.
Scientists are pointing to the side effect that when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to more effectively learn and remember information, or more importantly, become more innovative in their thinking patterns. Innovative thinking is and always will be a critical aspect of determining the future of our nation. After all — look what our forefathers were able to accomplish — and that was with just pen and paper at hand.
Of course cutting back is easier said than done. There are the work pressures of being connected all the time, and the need to be Tweeting and Facebooking around the clock in order to stay current with family and friends. But it all does come with a price. So how do we start adjusting our behavior and increasing downtime? Start giving your brain (and your eyes) an opportunity to relax, even if it is only for a few minutes a day to start. Go outside, listen to music or exercise without being connected to your iPod. I dare you to try — I’m going to!
Can you do it? Let me know by e-mailing me via email@example.com.