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This Is Your Brain on Computers! Part 2

The Myth of Electronic Gadgets and Productivity: Maybe They Should Call Them “Stupid Phones”

Last blog post I mentioned that I’d recently shared the stage with Dr. Ned Hallowell, Laurie Dupar and others at the Screen Time Sanity Telesummit, where experts shared wisdom on the insanity created by our gadgets. I listed some eye-opening facts about how it’s not just ADHD kids with media-abuse problems: adults are prey to similar misdeeds.

In this post I’ll share some of the costs of media mayhem – costs that directly hit your productivity’s bottom line. (And you thought your gadgets made you MORE productive?!)

[In Part 3, some tips for mitigating media-based miseries.]

The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking ADHDThese gadgets – our smartphones, tablets and laptops – are fueling our multitasking behavior – and the myth of productivity that goes with it.

No one can deny the massive leap forward these devices have ushered in – in efficiency, convenience, joy and even saving lives. But with them has come a culture of multitasking – which we all assume to be a benefit. After all, why work on one thing when we can work on many things?!

Yet we’ve known for decades that the brain can barely process two streams of information, and more importantly, can’t make decisions about them both. Plenty of research – at Yale, MIT and Stanford – has tried to prove that multitaskers can re-wire their brain to allow such multi-processing. None of the studies has proved out.

Here’s what some of that research has proved out:

  • Multitaskers take longer than non-multitaskers to switch among tasks.
  • They are less efficient at juggling problems.
  • They will search for new information even when existing information is available and workable.
  • They have more trouble focusing and filtering out irrelevant info.
  • They experience more stress.

In sum, multitasking is for suckers! Thank you, Yale, MIT and Stanford.

And if you don’t believe the research, just think about it in very practical terms…

  • Multitasking is so inefficient because it’s really multi-switching between tasks…
  • You can’t type a text message and read a report at the same time. So you have to switch between them. And research says it takes anywhere from one to twenty minutes to get fully re-engaged in the original task.
  • Multiply that by 10 times a day, five days a week, and you can accumulate a full work day just getting re-engaged in your primary task.

The Impact on Prioritization

I mentioned above a finding that multitaskers seek out new information even when it’s not needed – an obvious waste of time and mental energy.

This is related to a finding that multitaskers seem more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information. More specifically, incoming info tends to set off their more primitive alert system (the one that signals immediate danger) rather than the more evolved alert system (the one that signals it’s time to cook dinner to feed the family).

So to heavy multitaskers, any hint of something new sets them off on a frenzied search as if it were critically important. Whereas the non-multitasker will know to ignore these primitive signals and focus on the more meaningful meal prep.

Hmmm. Chasing imaginary problems vs doing what’s right and important. Um, I think that means…Multitasking is MAKING US [MORE] ADHD!! 

More Bad News: Impact on Relationships

A sampling of research in this area:

  • One prominent researcher says the ultimate risk of heavy tech use is diminished empathy by limiting how much we engage with one another, even in the same room.
  • Another talks about the new phenomenon of being “Alone Together” – parents texting at the breakfast table…Three teens hanging out ‘together’ for hours, but each on her own device texting with people in another location…People seen texting at funerals and wakes, as per my disturbing example in Part 1.
  • A Harvard psychologist who interviewed more than 1,000 kids, teachers and parents, said: “One of the many things that absolutely knocked my socks off was the consistency with which children — whether they were 4 or 8 or 18 or 24 — talked about feeling exhausted and frustrated and sad or mad trying to get their parents’ attention, competing with computer screens or iPhone screens or any kind of technology.”
  • A study from Boston Medical Center suggests that parents who are absorbed by email, games or other apps have more negative interactions with their children.

This is your brain on computers. Heard enough? Me too. In Part 3 of this screen-time-insanity series, I’ll offer some corrective action steps.



P.S. Hey – I just heard your smartphone saying something. I think it said, “Leave me the hell alone for a coupla minutes, will ya?!”

Oops…Sorry. That was my phone. ab

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

5 Responses to “This Is Your Brain on Computers! Part 2”

By Wendi - 21 September 2015 Reply

I believe TV and even music via ipods, ipads, stupid phones, etc also take away our ability to interact with real humans. Growing up, we would watch TV together and/or movies, but were we REALLY communicating and interacting with each other? I don’t think so. Lately my home is quiet- no music via Spotify, or I heart radio, no TV in the back ground, just really digging the “silence” and sound of humans….

By ADD Crusher - 23 September 2015 Reply

Love that, Wendi. The other GREAT thing about quietness, is that is when the mind is opened wide to new ideas and problem solving. I just did a video blog on this for the CrusherTV Facebook community. I might post it to ADDCrusher.com blog also. Stay tuned…A

By Andrea - 4 September 2015 Reply

I also think these Stupid Phones are adding to this era’s problem with a sense of unwarranted entitlement. I.e. “I texted you… you should text me straight back”… as if the recipient of the text was just sitting there waiting with nothing to do, other than to reply to the text. We feel compelled to respond to a text no matter what we are doing. Imagine being in a board meeting when a friend barges in to make after work plans – we’d be mortified! Yet answering texts while eating dinner with the family seems acceptable to so many. Yeah – I text. But I’m not a big fan. Most of my friends/family know that texting me means you might get a response that minutes, but (more likely) within 48 hrs (usually because I forgot to text back, but that’s another discussion!)

By ADD Crusher - 4 September 2015 Reply

Great point Andrea. Hadn’t really thought about that. I suppose this started with the telephone (Why hasn’t she called me back?)…then emails (I KNOW he’s checking his email, dammit!)…and now split-second text reflex. Hope you tune in to the debut of CrusherTV. Will be treating this issue with some humor and discipline. Stay tuned for more news on that!! -Alan

By JT Franklin - 17 August 2015 Reply

Very timely for all I am sure. Thanks!

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