Thursday, August 11, 2005

Does E-mail Make You Dumber ?

-Originally printed in Discover magazine, Anne Casselman, August 2005, page 8.

If you feel like a zombie at work, perhaps you're suffering from infomania, the term the Hewlett-Packard affiliate in Britain coined for people addicted to e-mail, instant messaging, and text messages.
A recent study for the company found that British workers' IQ test scores drop temporarily by an average of 10 points when juggling phones, e-mails, and other electronic messages-more of an IQ drop than occurs after smoking marijuana or losing a night's sleep. "This is a very real and widespread phenomenon," said Glenn Wilson of the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, who conducted the tests on some 1,100 volunteers. Just how long it takes to recover in unclear.

The study found that modern-day communications have become addictive: Sixty-two percent of adults check work messages after office hours and on vacation. Half of those surveyed reply to an e-mail immediately or within 60 minutes. About 20 percent were "happy" to interrupt a business or social meeting to respond to a telephone or e-mail message. Yet 89 percent of those surveyed found it rude for colleagues to do so.
Whether infomaniacs are less intelligent is another question. "It didn't affect their IQ at all; it affected their performance on an IQ test," says Bob Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard University. "When you're taking an IQ test, you probably want to be really focused. That's the antithesis of the state you get into when you do a lot of multitasking."

The human brain has evolved different modes for concentrating on a single thing versus jumping from one thing to another. "The reason we have these systems that quickly shift between each other is because what's right for you now might not be right later," Stickgold says. "There are basic brain-stem mechanisms that will cause you to shift and focus your attention on a change in stimulus."

Whether that change is a saber-toothed tiger popping out of the woods or a phone ringing suddenly, the consequences are the same. "The switch signal comes fast and powerfully. This system knows at a moment like this that what's important is to shift your state quickly, and damn the cost. And the cost is that it takes several minutes to shift back," says Stickgold. "That's the way we're wired."

** The rest of this post is by PoisonPencil **

Turn off your computer, cell phone, pager, and television.
(1) Go outside.
(2) Breathe deep.
(3) Exhale.
(4) Smile.
(5) Go back and repeat actions 2-4. At least a few times more.



At 3:01 PM, Anonymous janey said...

Funny, those are the instructions the teacher in my first quilting class gave me. She had to come back and tell me a few times to breath. It didn't take the first time.

At 5:49 PM, Blogger steve said...

Your quilting teacher sounds like a wise lady, Janey. No wonder you are so smart !

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Anonymous said...

Twice NO.
Email does NOT make me dumber.
I don't want to go outside.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger steve said...

The e-mail thing is generalized, not absolute, Anonymous. And the outdoor option can wait until spring arrives for you in Australia.
I'll bet you can't wait until things warm up and the flowers start to bloom !

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Anonymous said...

Twice YES.
Email thingy IS generalised.
Thanks Steve; YES can't wait until things warm up! :)

At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

is this why we haven't seen you at IF this week? outside breathing? if so, good for you. go out and play! but the tone of your comment on my blog worried me...are you okay?
take care

At 2:32 PM, Blogger steve said...

I am sending a psychic 'spring' dream to ya, Anonymous. Enjoy !

At 2:41 PM, Blogger steve said...

Yeah, I'm playing hookie from Illustration Friday, Kerry. I may deserve a spanking for skipping it this week, but the subject matter just didn't light any fires in my teeny tinie brain. All I could think of is the concept of the 'wise old owl' and that just didn't feel fun nor challenging to me.
I'm fine Kerry, thanx for asking! Just slightly stressed about my parents. They had a few fights (nothing violent) and things are smoothed over now due to my diligent refereeing. Just gotta keep an eye on them. Things are better now. Took mom to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum yesterday and she luved it. I'm gonna take her through the rest of it later this week. Her and dad are opposites. He's a homebody and she's a people person/outgoing type. Juggling both of them leaves me drained occasionally.

Woof !

At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so sorry bud, i can sympathize. sometimes the kids become the parents, eh? hope things pick up for you. as for IF, if you don't feel it, there's not much of a point. maybe next week will prove more inspiring!
take care

At 8:15 AM, Blogger steve said...

It's an on again off again thing with mom and dad. Nothing new.

I feel good about the next Illustration Friday ! Maybe I'll know your socks off this time...



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