Thursday, August 26, 2010

Constant input cannot kill my pain*

We’re a nation of junkies, mainlining continual electronic stimulation from smart phones, computers television screens and iPads — sometimes all at once.

Over the past couple of years there has been a slew of stories about the effects of constant stimulation on our brains. Basically, we’re addicts and our brains show it.

We get that little dopamine squirt every time we check our e-mail on our phone. Something “new” might be on there and boy do our brains like “new.” If we’re forced to withdraw from technological stimulation, we get agitated, irritable.

Dopamine is responsible for the euphoria that addicts chase, whether they get it from methamphetamine, alcohol, or Internet gambling. The addict becomes conditioned to compulsively seek, crave and recreate the sense of elation while off-line or off-drug. Whether it’s knocking back a few whiskeys or betting on the horses, dopamine transmits messages to the brain’s pleasure centers causing addicts to want to repeat those actions — over and over again, even if the addict is no longer experiencing the original pleasure and is aware of negative consequences...
The mental reward stimulation of the dopamine system is a powerful pull that non-addicts feel as well. ... Even checking email can become a compulsive behavior that’s hard to stop.
— Psychology Today magazine

That helps explain why people will text while driving, even though they really know that it’s insanely dangerous — more dangerous than driving drunk. (Car and Driver Magazine).

Now, I’m no Luddite. Computer technology, e-mail, smart phones all have made it easier to do my job — and do it better. I can gather information more quickly and have it up on The Nugget Web site in seconds if need be. No question, technology has made me more productive and that’s true for many, many people. That’s pretty cool.

In my off-work life, I love having fingertip access to obscure historical information and documents. The lyrics and chords for that song you’re trying to learn are right there and if you can’t figure out a guitar lick, chances are somebody has put a demo up on Youtube.

All that is great: really enhances the quality of life.

But it’s also all to easy to go down the rabbit hole of the Internet, forgetting the purpose of that original Google query, wasting an hour, two hours clicking off into some cyber maze, distracted, unproductive and actually fatigued.

And that temptation to pull out the smart phone to fill any second of downtime is pernicious.

From The New York Times:

“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”
At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.
Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.
“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.

I think my brain is fighting back. Lately, I’ve taken to “forgetting” my cell phone when I go out after work. I take that as a healthy sign.

I’ve always been good about getting away from the noise. I get out to the woods with the phone off (still have it; it can be a lifesaving survival tool) and I prefer to workout with no distractions. But I’m thinking seriously about expanding those “tech-free zones” — hours where the cell phone is put away, the computer is off, the TV is off.

Tech rehab: an idea whose time has come.

* Apologies to Steve Earle

Jim Cornelius, Editor

No comments:

Post a Comment