Your Brain on Computers

My car’s been in the shop for a week now, so I’ve gotten around by taking the bus and walking.  It’s not a bad way to travel in the summer in Seattle, and my three year old has taken to it like a middle-aged man to a Porsche.  She hardly minds waiting at bus stops because she knows that pretty soon she’ll be riding in style in the back of the bus.  Unfortunately, I’m not usually so patient.  A trip on Monday took four hours instead of the usual hour and a half.  There was a lot of waiting around, and for some of it I fiddled with my iPhone, reading the news, checking twitter and facebook.  It’s become a bit of a habit, this using my little snippets of time to “get things done.”  I quell my compulsion as much as I can when I’m with Quinn because I’m acutely aware of what I’m modeling, but when I’m alone I often find myself thinking, “Man, I’m not being very productive!  Just sitting here.”  And then I pop out my phone and the problem’s solved.

This was my thinking until yesterday, that is, when I came acrossthis article in the New York Times (on my phone, of course).  When it comes to the use of a phone to get things done and avoid boredom, it appears I’m in good company.  But scientists are concerned.  Here’s the crux of the matter, according to NYT:

Scientists point to an unanticipated side effect [of digital overuse]: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas…At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.  Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

Well, that really puts things differently.  It appears that my tendency to “use my time wisely” might actually be counter-productive.  A better mantra for my downtime might be: everything in moderation.  But first I gotta catch up on Jon Stewart.

Originally published at the Burnside Writers Collective.

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