Categorized | Blog, Tech

Addiction or evolution?

Posted on 27 June 2010 by Pauline Herbst

I’ve been thinking about my brain “on computers”.

mammalian-brain-computer-inside

According to a story by Matt Richtel that first appeared in the NY Times in early June:

“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 dopmaine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.”

A similar story ran on the NZ Herald’s technology pages almost two weeks later with the fabulous and slightly hysterical phrase: “Does the thought of going cold turkey from technology make you want to daub your social networking status in your own blood across the nearest brick wall?”

Well, no… but I probably spend at least 12 hours daily staring intently at a monitor or iPhone, immersing myself in any number of applications and communicating virtually with a publishing team that includes designers, sales managers and other colleagues. The person to the right of me is muttering “at least” in a tone that says “damn girl, spend any more time with those things and you’ll forget what it is to be human . Addiction or a good work ethic?

I’m not an isolated case. Freelancers in particular use technology to create and collaborate with people around the world. If you’re in media, specialising in anything to do with technology, gaming or social media you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. So I took the Stanford University/NY Times interactive test: Test Your Focus. I miraculously scored 100% in the tests but did find my mind wandering repeatedly while doing it.

It’s made me curious. I agree with a lot of what the researchers say – sometimes the volume of info can make it challenging to focus on a single task but does this necessarily mean we’re becoming addicted?

Interested in your thoughts…

  • How many hours do you spend with pcs, phones etc per day?
  • Is the majority of your work conducted online?
  • How did you score on the focus test?

Image credit: I found this image on Neurdon’s blog (Putting the Sci in Sci-Fi). I really like it. For some reason it smacks of steampunk.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. JB Says:

    Interesting post here!

    As a revise sub, I multitask day in and day out so my working memory in the execution of complex tasks are about as developed as they come. And of course I’m constantly interrupted from 20 sides!

    This doesn’t gel with my test results though – I got 92% (1 error) for minimal distraction cues and 100% for the questions with additional distraction cues – the opposite of what the test predicts.

    From a psychometric point of view I’m not convinced of the construct validity of this test. The time interval between the flash control and the experimental images is actually too short to test short term memory per se. It’s much more likely that a combination of iconic memory and pattern recognition is involved, especially as the visual cues are so simple.

    Also, with test scores this high, the test may simply not be sensitive enough to measure anything. And come to think of it, isn’t it a bit on the short side for a test that claims to measure focus!? :-P

    Not that I wan’t to slam Stanford or anything, but seriously?

    Even better: check out the other test on the page. The one which is supposed to test how fast you juggle tasks. OK, more challenging, but having two different input methods (with inherently different response times!) is just stupid.

    Actually yeah, I want to slam Stanford.

    Idiots.

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