This is Your Brain on Computers

How many digital devices do you have?  How much time do you spend on the computer, either for work or for recreation?  I imagine I’m pretty much in the mainstream, relying heavily on the computer for most of my work and certainly spending a fair amount of time (although not as much as some people) checking emails, updating my blog, and reading articles on the internet. 

I already know that the sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for my body, but what effect is all this technology use having on my brain?


An interesting article in the New York Times titled Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price caught my eye.  It is a pretty lengthy article but the core piece that caught my attention is this:

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

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people … these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

Accompanying the article are two online interactive tests you can complete, one that measures your focus and the other that measures how quickly you juggle tasks.  Curious, I took both.  My results are below.  The two tests are very interesting and take only four or five minutes apiece.  Check them out and let me know how you did.


Edit: Senlin just pointed out that my real skill is in misinterpreting test results.  It seems that I’m actually a very poor multitasker.  Maybe I should try the test again.  Or maybe I should just learn to love myself the way I am.  =(

For multitasking, I performed better than both low multitaskers and, to a lesser extent, high multitaskers.  As much as I am skeptical whether “multitasking” really exists (sometimes I think it just means to do multiple things without much focus, rather than focusing on multiple things at the same time), it looks like I am a pretty effective multitasker.


With regards to my ability to focus, I scored better than both low and high multitaskers.  Generally, I have a low level of distractibility, as Tawn will attest anytime I’m in the midst of reading Xanga subscriptions and he wants my attention.

Seriously, though, as much as I’m a bit of a technology geek and know my way around computers reasonably well, I’m increasingly reaching the saturation point.  I haven’t jumped on the smart phone bandwagon, for example, and I’ve been consciously scaling back the time I spend on Facebook and other social media.  As for random browsing on the internet, following one link to the next, I’ve but the kibosh on that.

Instead, I’ve been reading more books lately, exercising more, and working on a project for my grandparents’ upcoming 90th birthdays. 

This is my brain, unplugged.

What about you?  How do you feel about your use of technology?  Too much?  Not enough?  Just about right?