April 24, 2005

Is Technology Making Us More Scatterbrained?

Information Overload: Many people have and continue to experience it, particularly with e-mail and other types of electronic information. Recently, I've seen a fair amount published on how all this data and technology could be having a negative effect on us. Are our wireless gadgets just making us more wired? Do we need to go on a tech diet?

Consider the following:

Just a few weeks ago, I saw this article on an ADT (Attention Deficit Trait) theory, published by CNET News.com:

"Why can't you pay attention anymore?"
"Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who's studied attention deficit disorder for more than a decade, has identified a related disorder he calls attention deficit trait, and he says it's reaching epidemic proportions in the corporate world. Unlike attention deficit disorder, or ADD, people aren't born with ADT. It's the result, he contends, of the modern workplace, where the constant and relentless chatter coming from our computers, phones and other high-tech devices is diluting our mental powers."

Why he thinks so: "When did you start to notice ADT as a disorder distinct from ADD?
Hallowell: So many people would come to me looking for a diagnosis of ADD, and I noticed some of them didn't really have the condition because it went away completely when they went on vacation, or it went away completely when they went off to a relaxed setting.

In ADD--the true ADD--it doesn't go away, wherever you go. So I realized that these people were having it induced by their work world. When they got to work, then symptoms would start to occur. So that meant that something was going on at work. That something is this overload."

Then today I read this:
"Emails more damaging than cannabis"
"Researchers at the University of London Institute of Psychiatry have found that the constant distractions of email and texting are more harmful to performance than cannabis. Those distracted by incoming email, phone calls and text messages saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking cannabis, according to the researchers. Some 1,100 volunteers were used in the study, sponsored by HP."
And while looking up a good definition of "Information Overload" at Wikepedia.org for this post, I came across this gem:
"Information overload is a term that is usually used in conjunction with various forms of Computer-mediated communication such as Electronic mail. It refers to the state of having too much information to make a decision or remained informed about a topic."

Under "Causes" for this entry, one finds:
"The subjective component of information overload comes from our having more information available to us than we can readily assimilate; this is a perceived phenomenon - though it is clearly no less real on that account - and is sometimes referred to as "technostress" . Perceived technostress induces a correlate perception that users are being controlled by ICT rather than being empowered by it. Like any other kind of stress, technostress results in reduced intellectual performance and poor judgment; this is well-known to cognitive psychologists." (ICT appears to be a reference to "Information and Communications Technology".)

The funny thing is that I was all set to talk about the cool things Ernie is posting over at his new blog, Tech Feng Shui. His theme is making technology more simple and useful -- something we all need, and it looks to be off to a great start.

But then again, if we're reading this additional information on our PCs and mobile gadgets, aren't we just degrading our mental abilities to be able to deal with all this information and technology in the first place?

Ironic, isn't it?

[4.25.05 P.S. As with most things, moderation and balance are usually good ways to overcome some of these issues. Getting "unplugged" on a regular basis is also important, whether it be a few days away or just turning off the gadgets. Getting enough sleep is also important for our intellectual and emotional well-being. Lastly, I'm glad to see that Gizmodo picked up on this post today, as finding balance with information and technology is sometimes quite challenging.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard