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Your Brain on Computers
June 7, 2010 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price 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.

Are you addicted? Take the tests.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (83 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't imagine anybody here suffers from this problem.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:00 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


tl:dr;
posted by edbles at 2:03 PM on June 7, 2010 [22 favorites]


"Scientists."
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:03 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


this is the blue place
posted by Avenger at 2:05 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just got 100% correct on the focus test. I'll get around to that other task juggling test eventually...
posted by Burhanistan at 2:05 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


That is totally not true, because - hang on, just checking something...
posted by Artw at 2:06 PM on June 7, 2010


Jesus Christ. Between the "children raised by lesbians are totally fine, probably better" study and the "seizure-inducing amounts of information we get every day are making us crazy and unfocused" study you have to wonder...wtf are you doing science and who is bankrolling you! Don't you have a disease to cure!

Metafilter: undermined by bursts of information.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:07 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I found this article to be deeply HEY LETS GO RIDE BIKES.
posted by loquacious at 2:07 PM on June 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


Ironically, I managed to get 100% correct on the focus test even as Tweetdeck kept flashing info onto the upper corner of my screen.
posted by COBRA! at 2:08 PM on June 7, 2010


We're surrounded by information. Just because it comes from a gadget now doesn't mean that it wasn't a problem before. I used to be distracted by trees.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:08 PM on June 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


Maybe it doesn’t matter that the internet is “making us stupid”
posted by homunculus at 2:13 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


An interesting article - I know I am quite prone to some of the things described in the article, and I have found myself at the end of the day feeling "fragmented" - like nothing got done, because all I did was a little bit of everything, and no focused time on any task.

However, I was quite prone to this before I had access to the internet, much less a mobile device. So is it exposure to technology or just that some of us are more susceptible to this type of things than others, and the technology is exacerbating it?
posted by never used baby shoes at 2:15 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I quit before the tests started.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:21 PM on June 7, 2010


I'm fine I can focus any time I want to don't cheese me off man hey, does anyone else want cheese fries I could really go for a nice thick juicy juice drink but the fresh stuff not from concentrate any time I want and no iphone can stop me from focusing but damn how awesome is it man that it now has two way video how freaking cool is it out right now i should have worn a full metal jacket hands down one of adam baldwin's finest performances outside of firefly take my love take my land take my wife please what ever happened to rodney dangerfield you know who I saw there once was jerry seinfeld doing his stand up act and he just killed a man put a gun against his head pulled my trigger now he's dead jim I'm a doctor dammit not an engineer whoa that's a mistake -- he should never have gotten down there; send him up here" but Satan says "No way I like having an engineer on the staff and I'm keeping Him i miss dom deluise the man was incredibly talented mister ripley now there was a guy who needed an iphone.

What were we talking about again?

Focus? We don't need no steenkin' Focus! Hell of a car, though. Hell of a...
posted by zarq at 2:22 PM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


I love how the example from the first couple featured was the guy missing an email for 12 days about an offer to buy his start-up for $1.3 million, a deal "he managed to salvage".

So my first take-away: This is apparently a "problem" I've got 1.3 million reasons to desperately, passionately want.
posted by jalexei at 2:24 PM on June 7, 2010


Jesus Christ. Between the "children raised by lesbians are totally fine, probably better" study and the "seizure-inducing amounts of information we get every day are making us crazy and unfocused" study you have to wonder...wtf are you doing science and who is bankrolling you! Don't you have a disease to cure!

We do, its just that our work tends to lack the nice punchline or easy moral that uneducated journalists need in order to interest readers who honestly don't give a damn anyway.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:24 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

Well I say my ability to know a remarkable quantity of shit would be undermined by not carrying around a portable touchscreen computer with always-on internet access. C'est la guerre.
posted by penduluum at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Just wait till we get them as implants!
posted by Artw at 2:29 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe we are getting dumber, but I can't help but wonder if it could be lots of things at cause and not the single thing. Body burden, for example, we are all carrying around toxic soups of chemicals at levels and quantities and mixtures that no one really understands its effects (hormone disruptors, heavy metals, etc..). Electromagnetic radiation is higher than ever. Nutritional deficiencies. The list goes on.
posted by stbalbach at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Between my inability to justify ever tuning out email, IM or Words With Friends... yeah.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2010


I'm imagining a future in which the proper in-person greeting isn't a handshake or a bow or whatever, but a vice-like grip on each other's nether regions. It'll be the only way to ensure full, coherent sentences and guarantee your party won't be distracted by their gadgets. We'll have to adapt to gesturing with only one hand, or maybe an arm and a leg.
posted by carsonb at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


I was about 10% slower than even the heavy multitaskers on the task-switching test. This came as no surprise to me, as I have adult attention deficit disorder and manage the condition with the help of medication.

What disappointed me, though, was to qualification that scoring was based only on the average time for correct reactions - mistaken selections were simply dispensed with for statistical purposes. As I completed both tests with 100% accuracy I was rather disappointed to note that the reliability of my task-switching decisions was considered irrelevant by the test designer.

I appreciate that processing delays can sometimes engender frustration in others, of the 'don't just stand there, do something!' variety. Indeed, it's something I find frustrating in myself from time to time. However, it's not nearly as exasperating as dealing with the aftermath of people's rapid decisions to do what turns out to be the wrong thing.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:37 PM on June 7, 2010 [13 favorites]


I have been having this "fragmented" feeling for a while now. My job requires me to work on three things at once pretty much all day long, and I hate it. Well, four things, if you count reading MetaFilter.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:38 PM on June 7, 2010


I'm not entirely these tests are a great indicator of ability to focus or multitask.

First, focus.

I tend to think of focus as a slightly more long-term thing - reading a lot of dense text for example, and extracting the meaning and analysing it. The test seemed very short term and more inclined to test spot-the-difference and short term memory skills.

Second, multi-task.

This seemed like a straight-up reflex test. Sure, you had to remember which arrow was which for best results, but it didn't feel like what I believe to be multi-tasking, which relates to juggling more substantial things which are completely different.

I was worried when I saw that Wired article on this a while back - I use the internet for casual "oh hey look at that cool thing" browsing, and am highly guilty of skimming articles. This is especially the case for news. I also find it quite difficult to concentrate on working on my laptop at home - the impulse to check MeFi, my mail, the BBC etc. is often too strong, and "just five minutes" turns into hours. So I was worried that this reflected both a lack of willpower (to do something) and a lack of focus (to concentrate on something when I'm doing it).

Luckily, this test has shown me that I have excellent focus and poor multi-tasking ability, so those doubts are now in the back of my...ooh, shiny thing.
posted by djgh at 2:43 PM on June 7, 2010


Don't you have to be able to focus pretty well to create a 1.3 million dollar company in the first place?

(Pity the couple prefers the company of ipads to that of each other at breakfast, though.)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:12 PM on June 7, 2010


I did abysmally on the second test, but was considerably faster when switching tasks, for some reason. Possibly because vowels are clearly even, and consonants are clearly odd, but the buttons were mapped the other way and it made my brain feel like it was melting.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 3:15 PM on June 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


I was having this problem until I cut out the nodes that I enjoyed the least: telephone, voice mail, and Facebook. Now I have plenty of time and get stuff done. Kind of a pain in the ass to get in touch with me, though.
posted by jtron at 3:16 PM on June 7, 2010


So, we've been hearing about how computers change our brains, more and more evidence is pointing to this. Ok, fine. I don't view it as sinister. Our world is changing, and I'm pretty ok with that. Just as the world of a rural farmer 300 years ago was much smaller: social intelligence meant knowledge of surnames & customs, navigation was compass directions, history was 1 or 2 books, etc. I'm ok having a larger world view, more connections, more information and at greater speeds.

Can we please start designing computers that make us smarter? I'm pretty sure that each pop up add, commercial break, aggregated 10 Super Awesome Photos You Gotta See blog post, is making us stupider. So how do we disseminate a depth of knowledge instead of a tiny marketable info-snack?

You there, ambitious phd information systems/psychology/marketing/neurology student. Get to work!
posted by fontophilic at 3:17 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think all the equipment actually makes me dumb. It just makes me feel dumb, because it creates an overwhelming awareness of all the stuff I don't know -- my Known Unknowns. And this is a massive pile. And everyone else out there is so smart. Or faster with the googlepoop.
posted by chavenet at 3:21 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The flip side of this is that if you transplanted someone from 500 BC to the present, they would feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of stuff happening constantly and would probably suck at time management.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:28 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess it's like when I was a kid, my parents would get shitty with me because I could tell you the name of any Autobot or Decepticon at the drop of a hat, even the ones I didn't have, but quiz me on the patron saints and my mind would go blank. The difference is between information that is cool and fun, and information that sucks and is stupid.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:40 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know about you, but it pissed me off immensely that vowels and even numbers didn't share the same button. I, personally, ascribe some kind of orderliness to the two, and I never really got the hang of it in the first try.
posted by blook at 3:48 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wired had this to say last month: As we multitask online, we are “training our brains to pay attention to the crap.”

When I saw the NYT article this morning, I thought about posting that and this.... but I got distracted.
posted by warbaby at 3:55 PM on June 7, 2010


Last year I got into an excellent fight with my broadband provider (that I eventually won, hah) during which they cut off my broadband for a month. As I was working from home this meant a daily trip to the internet cafe to get email.

Not wanting to go too early to worry about missing later emails, or too late to reply to important ones, i would go for half an hour or an hour every dat at 3pm.

The result was in that month I got more work done than I had done in years. I didn't wander off and check an internet site to see what that bird was out the window, or getr some more recipes for my lunch. I just got on with work, and when I needed a break I read a book.

I loved it, and had it not been so expensive, I think I would have continued with it. For the same reason I'm thinking of ditching my iphone, I just check it too often and it's annoying me.

And as for the email, not once in the month did I miss something that couldn't wait twenty four hours for a reply. Often people sent me emails saying that this was vital and I had to get right back to them, but in truth I never ever had to. Nothing was just so gaddamn important I couldn't reply to it the next day, and no one ever complained, nor did anything not get done on time.

OK, my job doesn't entail bringing peace to the middle east, but I suspect even then there's precious little that couldn't wait 24 hours for a reply.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:00 PM on June 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


It seems like one of these "computers are making things worse" essays/studies/op-ed pieces has been trotted out every few months for the past 25 years I've been in IT, and it really does get tiresome because frankly I haven't seen people become any dumber or more unfocused than they ever were. With news items like this it's not a matter of "too long; didn't read" but rather "Pffft - nothing new here; moving on".

I got 99 problems, but the Internet ain't one.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:14 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whatever, this is total crap. I know for a fact I've gotten smarter from using Facebook and Twitter.

I am now a bona fide multi-tasker. I can concentrate on four different things at once and commit all of them to my long-term memory with ease.

The days of paying attention to a single subject for an extended period of time are over.
posted by stevenstevo at 4:18 PM on June 7, 2010


I was about 10% slower than even the heavy multitaskers on the task-switching test
I did abysmally on the second test
I never really got the hang of it in the first try

Seems like a lot of us did badly on the second test. I certainly did.
posted by bhnyc at 4:25 PM on June 7, 2010


Got 100% on both tests once I blew off work.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:52 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems like a lot of us did badly on the second test. I certainly did.

I did fine on the second test, except for one instance when I was considerably slower (like, 2x slower than my mean), which skewed the mean. Anybody else find this, or were all your responses slow?
posted by one_bean at 4:54 PM on June 7, 2010


Interesting! Didn't miss any on the focus test and only 2 on the multitask test, but I guess they were more interested in the amt of time it took rather than accuracy. Go figure.

FWIW, I think it's worth looking at how social networking is changing our focus and multitasking abilities. Makes me feel more productive and I do think I get more done since my job entails doing a bunch of things all at the same time across the day, and changing gears at any moment.
posted by garnetgirl at 5:08 PM on June 7, 2010


The thing that took me time was moving my mouse from one side to the other. If I got an even number and then a consonant letter (or vice versa) I was golden. This is a shittily constructed test.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:08 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Arrow keys. Your multi-tasking, scatter-brained modern self neglected to notice that you can select your answer with the arrow keys on the keyboard, thus making mouse manipulation (and the problems therewith) moot.
posted by carsonb at 5:32 PM on June 7, 2010


I wish I could remind all of the journalists trying to stir up a shitstorm about the current information overload which is supposedly screwing up our brains that there was an even more drastic change in the amount of information people had access to when the printing press was invented in the 16th century and books went from rare objects to commonplace ones. Yet somehow despite this huge flood of new information, the entire Western world did not collapse.

And in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the industrial revolution happened and the pace of the world speeded up even further, people got as nervous about that new technology as people now get about the current stuff, and yet remarkably, the world didn't end back then either.

As far as I can figure, from a historical perspective, we have written records as far back Plato of older people talking about how the younger generation is going to pot because they don't know how to concentrate or how to carry on thoughtful discussions, and yet here we are 4,000 years later. If I could speak Chinese or Hindi, I wouldn't be surprised if there were records even older than that saying the exact same thing.
posted by colfax at 5:33 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


printing -> Reformation
industrial revolution -> WWI
electronics -> WWII, Cold War
the net -> ???

not asserting, just wondering....
posted by warbaby at 5:56 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


jalexei: "I love how the example from the first couple featured was the guy missing an email for 12 days about an offer to buy his start-up for $1.3 million"

When are people going to start adhering to the obvious hierarchy of communications methods based on the urgency of the message? If you want to give me $1.3 million or it's an emergency, please give me a phone call. If you need a question answered either in depth or not answered right away, send me an e-mail. If you are an organization that wants to tell me when you make a new thing, provide me an RSS feed. It's really that simple.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:07 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


the net -> grey goo.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:21 PM on June 7, 2010


I rocked that first test (looking at two pages and catching minute differences between 'em is part of what I do for a living), but I quit the second one before the actual trials began.

I think part of my difficulty was that I had trouble catching the little flashes of "NUMBER" or "LETTER" that told me what the heck I was supposed to be looking for in each subsequent trial. I also need new glasses. Oh, and dual-purpose buttons suck.
posted by limeonaire at 6:46 PM on June 7, 2010


My son did better than me on the second test by just hitting the L & R keys over and over. I thought the second test was cool though, and I did much better without two kids helping me the second time.
posted by sneebler at 6:53 PM on June 7, 2010


"The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting." -- Alain de Botton
posted by jason's_planet at 6:54 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

I got 100% on the focus test. Seriously, it was like the blue rectangles didn't even exist. It was weird. Must be because I'm on the internet, particularly MeFi, so infrequently.
posted by DU at 6:55 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.

Right, because what's less than 0?
posted by DU at 6:55 PM on June 7, 2010


I can't take the test because I blocked nytimes.com on my computer because I was spending way too much time there.

Metafilter, for some reason, was spared.
posted by miyabo at 7:01 PM on June 7, 2010


I dunno. I'm 52 and aced both tests although I'm _sure_ i screwed up some answers at the beginning of both tests. I kinda felt the rules were simple and they didn't give me good metrics at the end.

I've always felt that the world is a churning maelstrom of information, from driving a car to reading the tv listings. The key is to get good at sorting your inputs by priority.
posted by djrock3k at 7:23 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


In order for these tests to accurately reflect my life, I need to take them while my asks me to look up something on the internet for one of his kids, or someone needs to ask me a question that they could easily find out the answer to if they just looked it up on the internet, or my kid needs to tell me about Pokemon or Bakugan or whatever the heck he's playing with this month.
posted by Lucinda at 8:25 PM on June 7, 2010


Hey, I thought this post looked familiar. Oh, right. I clicked on it four minutes ago.

This is not a joke. I wish it were.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:27 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


the previous posters who talked about checking e-mail once a day making them more productive and how we need to remember to use the right channels of communication - really something to that, and they're two sides of the same coin.

If you're constantly responding to e-mail instantly, you train those who communicate with you that you'll respond to their chattery crap instantly. This has two bad effects; encouraging people to bug you all the time, and making them frustrated when you don't respond quickly. Their "cost" to send you a message is too low relative to the "cost" you pay to develop a reasonable reply.

And I'm real bad about this. Long ago I subscribed to that theory of time management that you do stuff NOW rather than handle it twice, and it's left me vulnerable to everyone who comes along and wants to sucker-punch me into wasting 15 minutes on their problem that could wait 2 weeks (or maybe if I let them cool off 2 weeks they'd forget all about it, or decide the problem is different than they now believe, so I'd solve it for them once instead of twice).

I don't think it's the flow or availability of info per se that's the problem; we can always shut off or ignore the info. It's the proliferation of information channels, along with people's misuse of those channels, that make things crazy. If you do tech support and all you have to worry about is the phone, you can manage it. If you do tech support by phone, e-mail, twitter, and facebook, you're using a lot more bandwidth without necessarily serving any more people any better. Add a lot of @yournamehere LOL UR PRODUCT IS GRATE WHUT? messages to wade through, and all of a sudden you're ready to blow your brains out.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:41 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who doesn't think this is a bad thing? It's an entire society collectively learning to rewire our brains for a new way of doing things. Of course we're going to be spastic at the get-go.
posted by GilloD at 8:50 PM on June 7, 2010


I scored over 90% on all parts of both tests and I'm drunk.

DRUNK
posted by zinfandel at 8:56 PM on June 7, 2010


I scored over 90% on all parts of both tests and I'm drunk.

DRUNK


I got 100% and 100% on the two focus tests, 100% on the Juggling test (I think--all dark red and dark blue on the bottom graph?) and graphed well over the high multitaskers for switching, repeating, and additional time for switching (whatever the fuck that means), and I am very stoned.

STONED

The fucking hardest part was trying to remember L E T T E R or N U M B E R for 2 seconds, lol. The focus part was remarkably easy. But then I play video games. :|
posted by mrgrimm at 10:01 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


But seriously, I think there was a point or problem somewhere around here...

Actually there are two problems here. And they are very different.

One problem--Information Overload affecting your work, i.e. too much email/Facebook/Metafilter/electronic communications/distractions preventing you from being productive at work.

That's no big deal, and there are plenty of people to help. I can't say I follow any of his suggestions, but I like the style/approach of Pierre Khawand. If I wanted to be more productive at work, I would try to follow his approach. He has tons of great little tips, of which I admit to using a few.

The other problem--Information Overload affecting your life, i.e. the fucking shit.

“The scary part for guys like Kord is, they can’t shut off their multitasking tendencies when they’re not multitasking.”

I mean, that's the danger--the diabetes II at the end of the ice-cream bowl. Alzheimer's. Dementia.

He has burned hamburgers on the grill, forgotten to pick up the children and lingered in the bathroom playing video games on an iPhone.

That's how it starts. Oh, the horror.

Good night, everybody. Sweet dreams.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:13 PM on June 7, 2010


I got 100% and 100% on the two focus tests, 100% on the Juggling test (I think--all dark red and dark blue on the bottom graph?) and graphed well over the high multitaskers for switching, repeating, and additional time for switching (whatever the fuck that means), and I am very stoned.

STONED

The fucking hardest part was trying to remember L E T T E R or N U M B E R for 2 seconds, lol. The focus part was remarkably easy. But then I play video games. :|
posted by mrgrimm at 1:01 AM on June 8 [+] [!]


Yes. And the goal, which might have escaped you in your current state, was to score lower in terms of time.

Ah, marijuana.

Wait, what?
posted by vitia at 11:31 PM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it was measuring you in milliseconds. Pot is generally not going to be an asset to anyone taking the multitasking test.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:33 PM on June 7, 2010


magnificent frigatebird: "I did abysmally on the second test, but was considerably faster when switching tasks, for some reason. Possibly because vowels are clearly even, and consonants are clearly odd, but the buttons were mapped the other way and it made my brain feel like it was melting."

This is so true and I don't even know why. Is it mild synethesia or what?
posted by Rhaomi at 1:18 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Alcohol seems to be good for the rotation test, but bad for the speed test.

Also, trackpads don't help the speed test.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:50 AM on June 8, 2010


Oh, that's what "they" say huh?

My -willingness- to focus might dither when there are a lot of distractions being thrown at me. But I can still focus for hours on demanding tasks that interest me after over 30 years of using computers.

Are lots of distractions possible when you've got the whole world laid at your feet? Sure ... and this is the first time in history for that. For the first time in my life, because of the net, I can chase down almost any factual question I've carried around for years and educate myself as deeply as I care to. I can refresh stuff that I used to value and realized I'd forgotten ... while I was doing all the "important stuff" "they" are worrying about.

And that's the nub of the question: what's really important to -you- ... and who exactly is it who knows better than you what -should- be important to you? If you look through the history of creativity, you find story after story of people who EVERYONE KNEW was focussing on the wrong thing. "Oh c'mon, Felix, drop that addiction to the piano and get back to your medical studies. There's no money in making music!"

Guys used to spend hours in their shop woodworking or in their garage building themselves a racer and nobody hectored them for their "addiction". Follow your fucking bliss. Damn the torpedos. One person's "addiction" is another person's "calling" (they used to call it that).

Or spend your life worrying what all the "wise" "expert" people think you should be doing. Please choose, Doctor.
posted by Twang at 4:18 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even *trying* to focus on the task test, for the simple 20 questions involved, I found my mind starting to wander. Awesome. :)
posted by antifuse at 6:12 AM on June 8, 2010


Dude, they said the same things about Guttenberg's printing press and somehow, we survived.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:22 AM on June 8, 2010


Dude, they said the same things about Guttenberg's printing press and somehow, we survived.

Not a single person in my family forced me to memorize an epic poem about my ancestors at all. I think something has been lost. When I think about epic poetry on further reflection though, it can stay lost.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:59 AM on June 8, 2010


Well, that's the thing. Whether or not we memorize it, the epic poetry still remains because we wrote it the fuck down. I don't think this bruhaha about "ZOMG! Computers are changing our minds!" is really worth freaking out about - we've been adapting to new technology every time we make said technology. So far, things have turned out alright. Sure people are addicted to the internet, but some people have been addicted to daytime TV. Also, that kind of begs the question* whether or not they'd be addicted to something else without the internet. Anyhoo, I can't take it too seriously seeing as how yeah, people complained about Guttenberg rotting people's minds.

* This may or may not be the correct usage of the phrase "begs the question." If I'm wrong, I pre-emptively blame Guttenberg's printing press for rotting my brain.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:55 AM on June 8, 2010


Who would have thought Diana Moon Glampers was behind this whole Internet thing?
posted by TedW at 7:57 AM on June 8, 2010


Yes, yes they did say that about Gutenberg's printing press. Curious that that's what made the WSJ and Wired has the LOL WE R ALL DUM perspective.
posted by clavicle at 8:13 AM on June 8, 2010


Re: email

I used to impose a hierarchical system of response time to emails. The stupider the request, the longer I took to respond to it. Some emails (particularly from bosses) were so idiotic I kept ignoring them until they eventually forgot about their stupid idea anyway. The system seemed to work well, really.
posted by threeturtles at 8:14 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The focus part was remarkably easy. But then I play video games. :|

Yea,h I mean this felt a lot like rhythm game brain mentality. It seems like gamers would have a slight advantage, over normal humans for either test. All my letters are consistently slower than my numbers. Even/odd is easier than vowel/consonant to my brain.

I totally got bored and distracted thinking about whether people like me who's jobs were more visual would do better on the focus test and missed two. Dunh Dunh Dunh. So clearly no we wouldn't.

Anyway, I thought multitasking was supposed to be stuff like "listen to podcast" while "doing other task that doesn't require language processing." Or "watch Hulu" and "play spider solitaire." Like actually doing 2 things at once, not switching back and forth? Who started this whole it's rotating a queue thinger?

She suggests therapy to determine the underlying issues that set off a person’s need to use the Internet “as a way of escape.”

Poor impulse control + not feeling like being productive + boredom = INTERNET TIME

This is stupid. If something is a priority I make it a priority. Then I focus on it and ignore distractions. Guess what? I don't have that many priorities. In fact, if I had a lot of them they wouldn't be priorities would they?
posted by edbles at 9:53 AM on June 8, 2010


Haven't read the whole thing, but, contrary to some of my friends in this thread, my concentration, mental organization, and memory have declined seriously lately, in the face of a constant barrage of emails, phone calls, IMs, tweets, etc. I don't mind electronic communications, but I feel like it's gone over the line into counter-productivity, for me personally. I encourage people to spend more time in conversation, less time with back-and-forth q-and-a; I find face-to-face communication far more effective and efficient than anything else; barring that, pick up the phone instead of emailing me over every detail.
posted by Mister_A at 10:17 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I thought multitasking was supposed to be stuff like "listen to podcast" while "doing other task that doesn't require language processing." Or "watch Hulu" and "play spider solitaire." Like actually doing 2 things at once, not switching back and forth? Who started this whole it's rotating a queue thinger?

Well, unless one of your tasks is autonomic (e.g. walking, chewing gum), you are switching back and forth.

That's the whole myth of "multitasking." When I'm working on my TPS reports and updating a product database at the same time, I'm not really doing both tasks at the exact same time. I do a little of one, switch to the other, do a little, switch back, repeat. (Another example: I'm not reading MetaFilter and answering work email at the same time. I'm doing both in the span of a few minutes, but I can't do both at once.)

Listening to music and writing a paper is not multitasking. Multitasking is listening to a record to write a music review of it while trying to write a separate paper on Madame Bovary. You can't really do both at the exact same time.

I'm guessing that's why they measure your multitasking ability by how fast you can switch back and forth between similar tasks.

Haven't read the whole thing, but, contrary to some of my friends in this thread, my concentration, mental organization, and memory have declined seriously lately, in the face of a constant barrage of emails, phone calls, IMs, tweets, etc.

I agree completely, and (aside from the whole radiation thing) one of the big reasons why I haven't bought into mobile devices.

I also agree on the face-to-face/voice over electronic communications. I hate to see 8 emails go back and forth when a 2-minute conversation would have sufficed...

Yes. And the goal, which might have escaped you in your current state, was to score lower in terms of time.

Yeah, it was measuring you in milliseconds. Pot is generally not going to be an asset to anyone taking the multitasking test.

Ah, I took it again right now, completely sober, and did about the same. I'm blaming "multitasking."
posted by mrgrimm at 11:47 AM on June 8, 2010


I cut off my internet access in December, and I definitely read more novels. I tend to still waste time, though, mostly with games. Maybe I just don't have enough to do?
posted by codacorolla at 11:48 AM on June 8, 2010


Heard this on NPR recently I thought "Marketplace", but apparently no where the analyst's take was "meh": sitting around in an distracted, monofocused environment is a relatively recent development. When man was living a survival existence we were geared exactly towards shifting focus, lest we'd miss or become prey.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:57 PM on June 8, 2010


Multitasking works for me. Or rather, multitasking is the way that I work. It's my style. It's only recently that I've found myself realizing that other people work in other ways. It has been helpful to realize that not everyone is able to change tasks at the drop of the hat, and that I can't ask their focus to be directed in four different places at once.

I suspect that people use information-era gadgets in the way that suits their style. Someone who is good at focusing is going to use these gadgets differently than someone who prefers to multitask. They'll each use their own style to surf the Internet in their own way, and perhaps the multitasker is more likely to answer their cell phone while also engaged with some other task.

I don't think we can say that one method is better than the other. Each approach will have its benefits in various situations.
posted by aniola at 1:06 AM on June 10, 2010


Codacorolla: I stopped using the Internet from home in December as well. I have found that in spite of still spending a significant amount of time online (for school, communication, and metafilter), not only have I gotten more novels read, I've also gotten more involved in my community and had more time to spend strengthening real-world friendships and working on various projects.

Speaking of multi-tasking, I'd best be off! I have several non-Internet projects beckoning. (Someone who is good at focusing might only have one project to do right now, but I bet they'd get done a whole lot sooner than I will.)
posted by aniola at 1:10 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


This may be why my cat does not understand me.
posted by Ardiril at 11:37 AM on June 10, 2010


Stop texting, Dad! I'm talking to you - Researchers fret about the risks of parenting while plugged in
posted by Artw at 12:35 AM on June 11, 2010


The Defense of Computers, the Internet and Our Brains
posted by homunculus at 5:20 PM on June 11, 2010


Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer by Wendell Berry
posted by carsonb at 11:56 PM on June 11, 2010


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