I enjoy many of the articles posted by Fast Company and recently my attention was attracted to one by Baratunde Thurston http://www.fastcompany.com/3012521/unplug/baratunde-thurston-leaves-the-internet who wrote about his decision to unplug from the Internet for 25 days and why we should consider doing so as well.
Like so many people I share a love-hate relationship with all our digital connections. I am totally dependent on the Internet to access to all the wonderful information I seek out and glean for in relation to our brain and how we use it. Yes, I have to admit it, I'm addicted to new information: just give me more!
I use social media to blast out my shared articles, blogs and thoughts and I've used it to make contact with and establish relationships with some amazing people around the globe. It simply would never have happened without being connected via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Yet, part of me reviles from this constant connection. I look around and observe groups of people and families in restaurants interacting, but not with each other. I see commuters no longer reading newspapers, or even books: heads bowed, they are completely immersed, lost in their digital world, texting, sending emails or playing games while seemingly oblivious to what is going on around them.
It's as if our need for constant connection is in reality disconnecting us from the real world and my worry is - we miss so much.
Sherry Turkle in her brilliant book "Alone Together, why we expect more from technology and less from each other" highlights the point about how much our digital love affair is costing us in terms of relationships and disconnection.
The other issue with being over-connected, is the amount of stress it imposes on our already over taxed brains. Our brain has evolved to use our down time to pause and reflect: to deepen our learning and to consolidate memory. Down time is when you develop your greatest insights and creative thoughts. Without down time we risk burnout and loss of human potential.
New information bombards our brain continually causing us to rewire our neural pathways to adapt to our changing environment and it's fast too. Gary Small from UCLA has reported that it only takes five hours for your brain to change your neural circuitry when learning a new skill.
Other researchers have shown how novice meditators show a physiological increase in the thickness of grey matter in the areas of the brain associated with memory and learning in just eight weeks of practice.
Overstimulating our brains and trying to multitask is causing us to lose focus and our ability to filter our what is not relevant. This implies multitaskers spend more time attending to irrelevant detail because their capacity to determine what is useful or not becomes impaired. Irrelevant. Researchers from Stanford have shown how chronic multitaskers are more easily distracted than others as well as performing worse overall on a variety of different tasks.
It's all about balance.
So how do you ensure you maintain a healthy balance of how much time you connect via all your digital gadgetry and doing ten things at once?
Have you like Baratunde undergone detoxification by switching off completely for a period of time?
Or have you established some ground rules for yourself, for your work or for your family?
Perhaps you have had ground rules imposed on you by your workplace. If so what effect has it had on you, your colleagues and your productivity?
Brain fitness is all about balance. It's about knowing how to optimise your mental capability and your mental stamina for enduring higher performance.
And as Paolo Cardini says: Forget multitasking - try monotasking.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Until next time,
Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner (2009) Cognitive control in media multitaskers PNAS 106 (37) 15583-1558;