Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting UN-wired

After a few billion years (give-or-take a half a billion), life has evolved on this planet sans digital technology. It's only been in the last 20 years computers have become ubiquitous and even far fewer that we've been carrying smartphones and Blackberries. So let me ask you - do you think our brains are more designed to deal with the pace of nature or electrons traveling at the speed of light? It seems more and more scientists are looking into what digital technology is doing to our brains and our attention spans, and what nature can do to bring us back into focus.
I'd already written a number of moons ago about the apparent benefits of getting children out into nature, as more and more children are growing up in front of screen and shunning the outdoors. But even those of us for whom childhood was largely electronic gadget-free are now showing symptoms of computer fatigue.
Call it serendipity, call it chance but just as I've taken to reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr, I came across the following NYT article discussing pretty much the same thing. Is our current 24/7 flood of information overloading a system crafted by Mother Nature and fine-tuned over countless generations to deal with a much slower pace and subtle clues? Sure, we have our fight-or-flight instincts to process and deal with sudden emergencies, but we are now having to handle a constant flood of new information, each touted as more important than the last keeping our stress levels unnaturally high. Is it any wonder then that in this day and age, there is a preponderance of drugs to treat problems like constipation, erectile dysfunction, and difficulty urinating, all conditions exacerbated by the fight-or-flight reaction? (in short - in an emergency our bodies shut down our digestive and reproductive systems in order to divert all resources to dealing with the immediate situation)
Wading back into The Shallows; it asks if our brains are literally wiring themselves differently (and in children, developing differently) in this age of sound bites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook status updates, and clicking from one Web page to another after just a few seconds. Are we losing our ability to think deeply about important topics? I’ll admit, I’ve noticed my skills of concentration don’t seem to be what they used to be and I sometimes find myself skimming even short online articles so I can click through to the next link. And let’s be honest: You don’t become good at anything by doing it for 30 seconds at a clip.

I highly recommend you read Mr. Carr's book; it will make you rethink how much time you allow yourself and your kids to spend online (even if it means reading The Balanced Guy less often!)

In closing this thought, I've taken longer than usual to add to this blog while I've been taking a needed hiatus from the Net (mainly social networking). After more than two weeks away from Facebook and working to limit my other time online, I can honestly say I feel less stressed and less "needing" to check email et al. Why don't you give it a try and get unwired?