Home/Blog/This Is Your Brain on Computers! Part 1

This Is Your Brain on Computers! Part 1

It’s Not Just ADHD Kids with Media-Abuse Issues: How to Take Back Control from Your Gadgets

Last month I shared the (virtual) stage with Dr. Ned Hallowell, Laurie Dupar and others at a very cool event, the Screen Time Sanity Telesummit. In it, top experts from around the world shared wisdom on the insanity created by gadgets and screens.

While all the other experts focused on kids’ media usage and “abusage”, I directed eye-opening facts and sanity-saving tips at adults.

I thought it worth sharing with my ADD Crusher™ peeps, and I deliver in three parts. Part 1, herewith, and Part 2, provide some sad background. (Yes, I’ll need TWO parts to cover all the negative aspects of this gadgetary crisis!) In Part 3, some tips for mitigating media-based miseries…

Let’s Start with Some Harsh Realities

While everyone’s understandably concerned about children’s screen use, and sometimes sadly, addiction, there’s plenty of misery created by our own adult-size gobbling of gadgetry. For example…

  • Adult brains are attracted to screen-based activities in much the same way as video game junkies’ are.
  • We are deceiving ourselves in believing that using our many gadgets incessantly makes us more productive – it’s actually the opposite in key respects.
  • Lastly, research shows that adult (i.e., parent) media use creates significant emotional issues for children as they battle with our devices for a share of our attention.

The good news is, if we take healthy stock of our media habits (not just smart phones and tablets, but TVs and laptops – anything with a screen) and put in place a few simple measures, we can free up tons of time and mental space for productive pursuits…and parents can have more enriching interactions with their kids.

How Our Brains Are Attracted to Screens

A typical ADHD kid is readily hooked on screens because, unlike the sustained attention needed to stay focused in the classroom — which offers no immediate rewards, the concentration involved in video games and TV is sustained with frequent immediate rewards: in the form of bursts of dopamine when points are scored, new levels are reached, laughs are had, etc. Ditto for fast-paced social interactions with friends.

The stimulation of video games, texting sessions and much of TV/YouTube is also about the pacing of the action; and once accustomed to that pacing, the real world seems mighty UN-stimulating. Hence the hours-long gaming or texting or YouTubing sessions.

But this is the same for adults. For instance…

  • Why is it that we can’t stand in line without checking our devices? It’s in part because our brains have become accustomed to getting those stimuli frequently – and whenever we crave them.
  • One researcher said, “When you’re plugged into your screen…everything feels urgent — everything feels a little exciting. We get a little dopamine hit when we accomplish another email — check this, check that.”
  • Why is it that while watching on TV a memorial service for the victims of the South Carolina church shooting, and the camera panned the audience, I saw countless adults staring down at their phones?!?!

And all the pitfalls of screen time insanity are of course more extreme for those of us adults and parents who are ourselves ADHD!!

Some Stats on Media Use for Adults

  • The consumption of all media tripled from 1960 to 2008.
  • At home, we consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when you include simultaneous consumption.
  • We visit an average of 40 Web sites a day.
  • And we are constantly shifting our attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times…an hour!

The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment. Another expert said, “We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do. We know already there are consequences.”

This is Your Brain on Computers

More sad-but-true facts culled from top researchers…(image from Geeky Tweak)


  • Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information changes how we think and behave. Our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.
  • The bursts of info play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that can be addictive. In its absence, we feel bored.
  • The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. More commonly, we suffer reductions in creativity and deep thought, and interruptions to work and family life.
  • Effect on Sleep and Circadian rhythms: the light emanating from all of our screens interferes with our sleep onset. So checking emails or watching TV in the bedroom are very self-destructive habits.
  • If, as research suggests, a TV in a child’s bedroom increases risk of obesity and substance abuse, surely there are implications for us adults with a TV in the bedroom.

OK, I’ve reached the recommended max of 800 words for a blog. Hope it wasn’t too much. In Part 2, I’ll share some sad realities that are more practical in nature (i.e., how gadgets affect our productivity).

Stay tuned. (Um, and I don’t mean stay tuned to your TV show!)



P.S. — I’d love to hear your gadget/media horror stories…or man/woman-against-the-machines victory!

P.P.S.  — If you haven’t yet heard of www.CrusherTV.com, I hope you’ll check it out. Each Monday night at 10pm we “air” another episode chock full of useful productivity tips and “brain hacks”, and our Guest Experts provide more great ideas. Tons of other benefits for members, including free group coaching sessions. Hope to “see” you there! ab

10 Responses to “This Is Your Brain on Computers! Part 1”

By Claudia - 5 August 2015 Reply

Partially that’s me – it seems I cannot do “boring” chores like folding the laundry, weeding or similar jobs without one podcast or another, an audio book or at least internet radio stuffed deeply into my ear canal.

My family resents this because it makes me unapproachable. I resent their resentment because they leave all these chores to me (I work full time, I’m *not* just a homemaker – it wouldn’t be an issue otherwise). The thing is that I hate the whirling mill of thoughts in my head which invariably leads to self pity because I’m such a drudge *gg*. I know the brain actually needs a healthy amount of boredom, but the conscious decision to stay “unplugged” is hard.

On the other hand, when I meet with people for a coffee, WHY do they keep staring at their phones? Am I that boring?

The worst thing I have seen was during a congress where the participation fee was well over a thousand euros. Even there, folks were ignoring the lectures and exercising their thumbs under the table. My heart was with the presenters.

By ADD Crusher - 9 August 2015 Reply

Claudia you have identified a HEALTHY use of gadgets that’s a great tip for a lot of ADDers: using music or podcasts to fuel your doing of drudgery (laundry, weeding). As such, your media use is helpful, not a negative. And you’ve totally nailed the sad side of screen time insanity…weakened social interactions, disrespect for speakers, etc. Bravo. -Alan

By Katharine - 2 August 2015 Reply

Wait so not fair! I just got intenet back since May so I have more out than usual and let me say try the opposite. Absolutely nothing for just 1 week people! No Tv, internet or phone. So yes I like shiney objects that I know enough to keep them out of the bedroom! Or you know must check one more thing yada yada 🙂

By ADD Crusher - 9 August 2015 Reply

Way to go Katherine!!

By Brooke - 2 August 2015 Reply

Loved the article! I am familiar with this issue as my husband has ADD and plays video games around 30 hours a week. He is always carrying his iPad or phone with him and very rarely disconnects, even in conversations & while driving. It’s been a tension in our relationship/marriage as my love language is quality time and he can rarely pull away from a screen. I just continue to pray for him and try my best to be understanding!

By ADD Crusher - 9 August 2015 Reply

Wow, Brooke, that sound like a clash of love language cultures. Hope that one day you can get him to see his media habits in a realistic light. Thirty hours a week?!!! Bless, Alan

By Marcella Lowry - 2 August 2015 Reply

In all truthfulness, I moved to an apartment last November, and I never hooked up the wiring to watch it. I occasionally watch the 10 pm news on my phone, and read things online. I gotta admit, it’s nice to have peace and quiet at home. I still spend too much time on Facebook, but I also turn my phone off. I make time to be in the moment with my adult children or boyfriend I have to completely unplug to reset my brain.

By ADD Crusher - 9 August 2015 Reply

Ahhhh. Sometimes it takes something like a move to a new home to create that opportunity for “pattern interrupt”. Hope you’re doing fun, joyful, positive things in your newly found extra time!! -Alan

By Jesse - 1 August 2015 Reply

Thanks for this Alan! I recently attended a wedding, and danced like a mad-man, while having those short interactions. In the same vein, still buzzing from caffeine afterwards, I went home to play video games for hours on end, and then sit on the computer for a couple of more hours. I can’t say that it’s all related to this idea, because I’m the one who chose not to do those things I planned that didn’t involve screens (i.e. work out), however, this may just be the type of stimuli that your talking about in your blog today. Thanks for the reminder to reduce the electronic juice!

By ADD Crusher - 9 August 2015 Reply

Hi Jesse — just the increased awareness of our habits can help change things for the better. Stay aware of your media usage…don’t beat yourself up about it…but start moving in the more powerful direction. Choice is yours! -Alan

Leave a Comment