Tags: Brain, Pre-Frontal Cortex,Working Memory, CyberOverload, e-mails, Reduce to Boost Creativity, Reduce Stress, The Shallows Carr, Lose Concentration Power
Today on MSNBC Mike Todd said that he gets 14,000 e-mails daily. Cantor, Conquer CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity, and Reduce Stress [Paperback] said eliminate everything you can get directly on the web so you control what you want to read. I might suggest that you have a different e-mail for people you need to stay in contact with such as gmail.com. Nothing is really that urgent so many you can download e-mails every hour or so.
I have for a long time just turned off the sound of my e-mail alert, don't get feeds, and unsubscribe to almost all stuff I can get on the net directly. I only get e-mail from www.cjr.org .
Watching television news or stockmarket, I ignore the crawl and popups because they distract me from what the newscaster or commentator is saying. Note that ads don't have crawls unless they want to distract you during the presentation of the side effects.
Everything goes into your working memory, but there seems to be two working memories which are fairly small for pictures and the other for speech so you can have both inputs without overload. Any distraction replaces this very temporary memory which stays there up to ten seconds. I can normally remember a whole lecture better if I do not take notes during the lecture. Just write a note when their is a pause with several key words. I normally DVR everything I watch just in case my mind wanders during an important point so I can rewind and continue recording.
For some reason when we are on the web, we tend to skim everything according to a number of studies. "The Shallows" by Carr. This book is very informative but it reads like a google search list of information. Carr, a former editor at a large publishing house, says since he started blogging, he lost his ability to read a book for more than 15 minutes, something MIT students complain about too.
By doing what we do on the web, we lose our power to concentrate, but we do gain the ability to think faster and make decisions faster because the left pre-frontal cortex grows. But we lose our ability think inductively. Although I have no proof, I think many college kids (Up to 40% in some cases) are taking ADHD pills to improve their ability to study and take tests, because the net has made them into ADHD patients.
Unlike past theories of the brain as being a permanent structure, it is apparently changing practically every day based on what we are exposed to. It does this by building synaptic connections to whatever part of the brain is used the most.
The drawback to the highly distractive net is that due to information overload of our working memory like a traffic jam, we do not absorb anywhere near as much information we get by reading more slowly without distractions. One thing in the Shallows book that really surprised me is how much skimming people do on the net even when careful and slow reading is required to absorb the complex article or book. It is like the Woody Allan joke in which he says he went to the Evelyn Wood speed reading course and was now able to read War and Peace in 30 minutes. It was about Russia.
Many of the books on the best seller list seem to be novels similar to movie scripts. Very superficial with very little character development which requires no thinking heaven's forbid. There are always exceptions if not skimmed such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and all the books in the trilogy. I strongly disliked the movie which seemed to just emphasize the violence.
Note I rarely use hyperlinks which is actually a super distraction because we need to decide whether to use these links. Test of students of an article show hyperlinks on related topics led to them knowing less than similar students reading the article without hyperlinks. I normally transfer important longer articles I want to read to my word processor so I can read them carefully without distractions.
What we lose is the ability to store information in our long-term memory bank where it is organized when we sleep and extraneous materials deleted. But if it does not get there in a sensible logical way, it may not be able to decipher the information to make it usable for deep thinking. Unless something is in our Working Memory, we don't know think about it. Perhaps the long-term use of the net will increase the size of our prefrontal cortex and shrink other parts of the brain. i haven't seen anyone mention this yet.
Some have claimed that the Internet makes us smarter. Yes, it could if you can work to avoid distractions and if you read the stuff off the distracting web with blinking ads or constantly changing ones, refreshing the web page to add new distracting news items, etc.
Happy Web Time,
Jim Kawakami, July 22, 2010, http://jimboguy.blogspot.com