Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where Was I?

I suspect that computers cause Attention Deficit Disorder.

For all I know, there’s already research to support or reject this suspicion -- I haven’t done any reading on the subject. But I know when I work on the computer I often find myself trying to do ten things at once, and bouncing from one task to the next before I finish any of them. The situation is expecially crazy at work, where I have TWO computers on my desk.

(Oops -- sorry -- I just popped over to iTunes for a minute to see if my search for Ralph Vaughan Williams turned up anything. And it did! Yay!)

I find that I am especially easily distracted if the computer begins performing a task that takes a little time. For example, if I need to download something, I’ll launch into another task while the download occurs -- and then I get wrapped up in that and forget about the download entirely! We’ve all had this happen, I’m sure.

Computers foster this kind of activity because with a few keystrokes you can be off on an entirely different trajectory without ever leaving your seat. (Oops -- pardon me -- my Flickr download is complete so I need to caption my photos. Be right back.)

So, yeah, what was I saying? Oh -- right -- different trajectory. I think there’s something about working with books and papers that’s more focused. You don’t need to wait for a machine to do anything or take you anywhere, so there’s less opportunity for your mind to wander. It can keep sustained concentration on a single subject.

ADD seemed to really rise to prominence at about the same time as computers. And don’t even get me started on video games! Of course, this doesn’t prove causation, but I suspect there is a link -- I think young people would better train their minds to concentrate if they weren’t so scattered in all their electronic activities.

(‘Scuse me for a second while I edit a picture on Flickr now that the photo editing program has launched...) was I saying?

(Photo: Think twice, Coney Island, March 2009)


  1. Everything in our culture at this moment in history inspires ADD. Even just ten years ago, we listened to albums of music by the same band. Now we listen to songs, strung together, yes, but we used to have longer attention spans.

    We have hundreds of channels on our TVS, we flip from one to the next as fast as possible.

    We have blogging, but we also have FB (faster, shorter) and Twitter (really attention shattering).

    But it's all in preparation for a big leap in evolution. You know my theory - so multi-task away, darling!

    and enjoy Vaughn Williams.


  2. the research is out there, Steve, and confirms your suspicion. As a matter of fact, if you study the brain wave patterns of children watching various tv shows or playing video games you'll 'see' this phenomenon in action.

    It's been so well documented that, over here anyway, the assembling of tv shows is purposefully done to 'break up' some messages and 'consolidate' others through varying lengths of shots - the kaledeidoscope effect interferes with long-term memory retention.

    Uh... where was I? :-)

    Oh yeah: Once you become aware of it, though, you can use it to your advantage, as Reya points out.
    But who thinks about awareness - except Buddhists and other weirdos fascinated by brains and how they work? :-)

  3. boy, ADD in the fingers today: that should read 'kaleidoscopic'.

  4. I don't think there's anything wrong with multi-tasking. I just learned you can multi-task in a workout using "power sets" which let one part of your body rest while another works instead of taking that 15-second break between sets.

    As for ADD, I think some of it may be diet related, but I also think it's been around for years undiagnosed and labeled. We didn't have ADD when I was a kid, but we certainly had kids who couldn't sit still.

    Ralph Vaughn Williams is one of my favorite composers. The choir I used to sing in did a lot of beautiful things he wrote.

  5. As Mum points out, some of your concerns are indeed documented...but in your own case, I'd think that your meditation/spiritual practice plus your temperament (clutter-averse, e.g.) might mitigate any "twitchy-brain syndrome" caused by the modern techie lifestyle...


  6. great post. lots to think about.

    I have heard various theories and stories on research done on the radio (and other forms of media) about how multi-tasking and computers create "cultures of distraction"* - but I was so busy multitasking I didn't take the time to jot the reference or cement the info into my memory banks

    * my word/concept - as I try to avoid using ADD since I feel it just fuels this tendency to MEDICALIZE human behavior. a mouse peeve!

  7. Great post Steve. Funny, but all too true. I can relate to doing many of those things.
    Ms Soup

  8. I've been computer-less for a week, and as of tomorrow, another computer-less week will begin. I use a cyber cafe just to throw some photos in a file.
    I never miss the computer when I'm away, except for filing away photos. I went camera-less for a few days too--it felt fine.