Danger, danger! Tech overload ahead

Researchers say our tech fixation is causing us to lose focus and become forgetful. Cringely says that's all a crock

Today of course is the first day of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference -- another Steve Jobs love fest during which he trots out the latest life-altering technology for his fanboys to drool over.

But before I get into that, I want to talk about yesterday's New York Times Website, which has an entire series of articles about how technology is rewiring our brains, and not in a good way.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Addicted to tech? You can always quit Facebook, Cringely suggests. | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Apparently, technology overload ruins your ability to concentrate and causes you to repeat yourself. It also ruins your ability to concentrate and causes you to repeat yourself.

I think I read that somewhere.

The more technology you consume, the more you multitask, the more gadgets you own and use, the more email/facebook/Twitter/text messages you manage, and the more you multitask, the more your brain begins to resemble a finely aged hunk of Swiss cheese -- or so says the Times.

All I can say is, thank God. I thought it was all that Lemon Pledge I'd huffed in college. Instead, it's information/gizmo overload. In other words, my brain problems are something I might be able to file a Worker's Comp claim for.

According to the Times:

In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows.

Fascinating, no? Hang on a sec while I tweet that out to my peeps. Hey, I'm the 66th person to recommend this story, and it looks like I have a few new Direct Messages. Did you know you could make thousands of dollars of passive income on Twitter in your spare time? I want me some of that.

Where was I? Oh yeah.

I'm not sure what the rest of that article said because there was a link inside to a game that tested how good I am at ignoring distractions by showing me a bunch of blue and red rectangles. I was doing pretty well at it until I noticed another test for how fast I am at juggling tasks. This one showed me a letter and a number side by side, then asked whether the letter I just saw was a vowel or consonant, or if the number was odd or even.

I was doing OK on that one until my cell phone started buzzing. I didn't recognize the number, so I listened in as the caller left me a voice mail. Yep, another PR drone calling to see if I'd received their press release -- good thing I didn't waste any time on that.

Admittedly, I often feel like that guy in "Memento" (what was his name?) who had no short-term memory at all and survived by tattooing important information on parts of his body, which explains why I woke up to find "Milk, eggs, light bulbs" written on my thigh this morning -- at least, I hope it does.

Back to the Times article:

A portion of the brain acts as a control tower, helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated.

So while your brain is trying to get that Boeing 737 into the air (drive to work), Bruce Willis has sprinted onto the runway (new text messages) and is trying to wrestle it to the ground (fender bender).

At least, that's what I think it was saying. The rest of that paragraph was continued on page three of that story, and I never read past page two.

Another link on that page leads to an article that likens tech addiction to food disorders:

The problem is similar to an eating disorder, says Dr. Kimberly Young, a professor at St. Bonaventure University in New York who has led research on the addictive nature of online technology. Technology, like food, is an essential part of daily life, and those suffering from disordered online behavior cannot give it up entirely and instead have to learn moderation and controlled use.

Which explains why every time I read Mashable or TechCrunch I immediately feel like puking. I must be infobulemic.

I didn't finish that article either. However, I did click a link to a graphic that lists some of the warning signs that you're hooked on tech. Among them:

* You always check your email before doing anything else

* You try to hide how long you've been online

* You choose to spend time online instead of going out with others

* You weigh 400 pounds and live in your parents' basement

OK, I made that last one up. But the other three -- well, that's not me, but I have this really good friend, and boy does he have a problem. You have to pry the keyboard out of his hands with a spatula.

Incidentally, while I've been writing this, 132 of my Facebook friends have "Liked" the same New York Times article. And three of these people I've actually met. Isn't technology wonderful?

Hmm, I feel like there was something else I wanted to talk about but forgot. Oh well, it'll come to me eventually.

How has tech overload affected you? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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Robert X. Cringely

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