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Beep. Beep. Beep.

By on March 1, 2012No Comment

So much temptation...

When I look around, I see temptation. Information. It’s like crack. You get a little information and you immediately want more.

Three beeps indicate a text message. My friends and colleagues who want my attention send me text messages when they want an immediate reply. E-mail, despite being in real time, has become less so. The same goes for instant messages, which can be ignored as well.

I get so many e-mails that I turned off the various alerts (sound and screen) long ago. Had I left the e-mail chime on, it would be one continuous noise. For the same reason, my Lotus Sametime instant messaging software also no longer chimes.

Americans today spend a vast amount of the day consuming information. A 2009 report from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) found that each person spends an average of 12 hours per day surfing the Web and watching TV, although the study counted 1 hour of watching TV and surfing the Web as 2 hours, so some hours were counted twice. While the typical individual watches TV for 5 hours, uses the computer for 2, and spends 1 hour gaming, only 36 minutes are given to print media, representing a huge shift in how we consume information.

In a typical hour spent online, according to Nielsen data from 2010, the average user spends 13 minutes on social networking sites, 5 minutes on e-mail, and just over 2 minutes using instant messaging tools. Interestingly, when Nielsen looked at online activities on mobile devices, 26 minutes of every hour was spent on e-mail, compared to only 6 spent on social networking sites.

Our choices in media consumption and activity are not without consequence; the way in which we stimulate our brains as we consume information can have a very real impact on our cognitive abilities.

A study of 11 German schoolboys at the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (German Sports University Cologne), published in the November 2007 issue of Pediatrics, investigated “the effects of singular excessive television and computer game consumption on sleep patterns and memory performance of children.” The research, led by Markus Dworak of the Institut für Bewegungs und Neurowissenschaft, which is part of the Deutsche Sporthochschule, involved having the boys play video games for 1 hour after doing their homework on alternate nights. The other nights, the boys would watch television or a movie. The researchers looked at the impact of different media on the boys’ brainwave patterns while asleep and measured their ability to recollect information from homework assignments. Playing video games, as compared to watching television, led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary assignments and also resulted in poorer sleep quality.

The temptation to give in to interruptions from our devices is strong.  However, we must resist the siren’s call and stay focused.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.


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