Amazing Ourselves to Death

30 Dec ’04

Oddly enough, via Slashdot another story today on multitasking – this one on the cognitive dissonance that some scientists are starting to believe it causes.  One of many money quotes:

Yet, some who study this modern phenomenon say the speed and ubiquity cause problems for those who are either psychologically ill-equipped or ill-trained to face dogged expectations that come with the package. Some of us get obsessed, checking e-mails while on vacation or late at night. We will e-mail to avoid talking and expect prompt reply, or fire off text-messages or gab on cellphones not because we have something to say, but because we can. (What? Am I interrupting?) We get lost browsing and sinking down one rabbit hole after another, dodging pop-ups and never quite focusing. Some of us hang around chat rooms trusting people who often are not what they seem, and "flaming" — harshly criticizing — people we will never meet.

This is such a topic of study that it has sprouted a number of terms, from "online compulsive disorder" to "data smog." Two Harvard professors see evidence of what they call "pseudo-attention deficit disorder" — shorter attention spans influenced by technology and the constant waves of information washing over us. When the brain gets excited over some rapid data and is stimulated, it releases a "dopamine squirt," they say.

 "We have so many options, reward centers that we never had before," says John Ratey, who teaches at Harvard and is a psychiatrist specializing in attention deficit disorder. "I think that’s why we’re seeing more of this. There are more demands on our attention and less training for us to stop and take it all in. We seem to be amazing ourselves to death."

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