The Computer is Trying to Eat My Brain… Maybe

January 17th, 2011

As I was sitting at work today (yes I have one of those awesome jobs where I have free time), I was trying to get my head into the JavaScript book I’ve been trying to get through for 6 months now. I enjoy learning it and I’m excited to put it into practice…but that doesn’t stop me from getting distracted. I have my moments when I can focus wholly on one thing, but getting into that zone can be insanely difficult. I recently took up crocheting so that I could have something to do with my hands when I’m just sitting around watching TV. I’m that person.

Back to my morning. As I was reading through my book, I thought about how I wish I could concentrate better. So I Googled meditation. I browsed through a couple pages. I went back to my book. I thought about how this technological world might have an effect on concentration and put too much emphasis on multitasking. I Googled that too. I didn’t come up with anything good immediately, other than one lady in a British publication saying that technology is creating a crisis with our brains. I went back to my book again. Then I decided that might make a good blog topic, so I went to my email so I could start writing and email it to myself for later. But first I had to look at that American Eagle sale that I know I should ignore.

A lot of people say they are easily distracted by shiny things. My shiny things are apparently the thoughts in my head, aggravated by the fact that 90% of the time I have a computer within reach so I can search, play, email, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love having information at my fingertips whenever I want it. But I have to wonder if it has an effect on my ability to focus.

I’m sure anyone can relate when I say sometimes I sit down to do one thing and 45 minutes later I can’t remember what that was but I’ve learned about origin of the phrase “blond bombshell” (1933, describing Jean Harlow in her film the Bombshell), and seen how many adorable rabbits were for sale on the local classifieds page (too many and I want them all). My husband makes fun of me for constantly having 10 or more tabs open in my browser at all times (hey, I don’t want to forget something I was doing).

Its interesting to think about the effect that technology and the digital world has on how we function. One great place to look is at the differences between what are being referred to as digital immigrants and digital natives. Digital natives are those born during or after the real introduction of digital technology to the mainstream, whereas immigrants are those born before who have taken it up, you might say. This is everything from the internet, to cell phones, to video games. I think that people my age are really some of the first to be squarely in that native category.

Even so I can’t help but compare to kids born later. My first real experience with computers was when I was 8, I owned one when I was 13 or 14. Essentially I grew up with it, as it was growing up too. But I learned to use the internet in 7th grade. I look at my nieces today, and they have never lived without it. They don’t even live in a family that is tech-centric. Their mother (my sister) barely uses the computer, but my nieces know how to get around. I have to wonder what my children will be like growing up in a house where we have three computers (for two of us, yes), and we use them all the time.

I don’t need to delve into it all, but for an interesting read check out Marc Prensky’s “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” Part 1 and Part 2. It’s a little old but it illustrates the differences really well. One thing he brings up is the fact that my generation is used to getting information and communication instantly. I started using instant messengers in middle school. TV without a built in schedule to browse drives me crazy. I use the internet on my smart phone to settle arguments about word usage with my husband while we’re driving to get dinner. Technology is in every part of my life. And I take advantage of it.

It can be overwhelming sometimes, though. I feel almost refreshed when I finally close my browser and all its tabs and start over fresh. My mind and my workspace can get pretty cluttered. I’ve been looking for a way to get it all organized. I recently started using the task list in my gmail. So far it’s been effective. Instead of trying to remember 20 things I put them in the list, no matter how important or inane. Then when I don’t have to think about it anymore. I can put it off for another time without it nagging at me. And when I feel flustered I can get myself back on track by reading through my list. Yes I have stuff on there like, read your JavaScript book.

It seems that my concentration problem is both aggravated and relieved by the technology I use. I have to admit though, my smart phone makes everything so convenient that the thought of leaving it behind for two weeks in May makes me a little sad.

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