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Does Web 2.0 Make us Dumber?

Paul Barth has a very interesting post tracking actual neurological research about problems related to multitasking.

Neuroscientists have shown in study after study, that multitasking isn’t helping us be more productive, but in fact, is making us dumber. Are some Web 2.0 tools, with their promise of instant connectivity, notification, and collaboration adding fuel to the fire?

He takes this quickly to the problem of the Blackberry (which in my case I suppose is my iPhone). And it reminds me of the cascading problems of trying to have a conversation with somebody despite the annoying assortment of dings and alerts and reminders and other media. When I sit in my office talking to you on the phone I should presumably be paying attention to you, but if I’m not careful I might also be dealing with instant message threads, looking at email, or the txt that suddenly showed up on my cellphone. It’s pretty obvious to me that this isn’t good, but Paul’s post gives me more evidence and detail:

The Atlantic, November 2007, features an article titled, “The Autumn of the Multitaskers”. In the article, author Walter Kirn, discusses the stress we place on our minds and bodies when we attempt too much multi-tasking with Web 2.0 tools, Blackberry’s, IM and more.

For example, Kirn notes that through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists have discovered:

“Multitasking messes with our brains in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning.”

What really bothers me is that they can actually see it on the scans and in the chemicals.

Sometimes, this pursuit of an “always-on” world translates into ill effects for our bodies. The article continues;

“Certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction—prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term they cause (our brain) to atrophy.”

Gulp. Does this sound familiar? And for that matter, congratulations, you managed to get to the end of this post without stopping because of Outlook alerts, IM, or telephone interruptions.


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