“The Technology is Re-Wiring Our Brains”

This week’s readings are, I believe, the first that really got me thinking and worrying on the subject of multitasking and how that is affecting my personal life and/or life style. Before I think I was complacent and ignorant because I just thought I would not be one of “those” who get addicted to Internet-based activities, but this may no longer be true…which is really frightening me!

In Richtel (2010) article, he notes that new research shows that “Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour.” I was not surprised at all. Also he states that according to RescueTime “Computer users visit an average of 40 sites a day” and at the time I was reading this line at a computer lab at butler I had 19 different tabs open in a window and had a moment of shock that was delivered to my heart (that I swear stopped beating for like 2.5 seconds -_-).

As my concern grew as I read through the article I could not help myself but try the games that tested how well you switched between tasks. Fortunately, the results showed that I did better than heavy multi-taskers who showed lower efficiency in juggling problems. However, I noticed that I was zoning out frequently (mind you that the game/task was about a minute or two in total) and did not remember if “letter” or “number” was flashed in front of my eyes literally milliseconds ago. It really was a disturbing realization of how easily unfocused I could become.

Another disturbing fact is how people interrupted by e-mail and other computer/mobile alerts had increased stress levels and a lot of people will remain “wired” and “hyper” or “alert” even after tech devices are turned off and your brain is “off.” This week with Lindsey’s survey I expressed to my two neighbor discussants in class that my Google account is part of my life. I chat constantly about life issues with friends, life updates with families, check-ups on homework assignments and deadlines with schools friends, etc. I communicate with almost about everybody through email. I set up meet-ups, meetings, schedules, daily plans, etc. through my e-mail. I expressed to my colleagues that I would not be able to function without my Google account. So it would not be a stretch to say that the majority of my planning and life style depend on this account of mine. But, it seems like the very “identity” of my life, this account I have, could be stressing me out to the point it is hurting me. It is true that I am constantly refreshing my gmail account and talking to people on it. I am a little bored and uncomfortable when there is little to no activity on my gmail account and I have experienced that during extended school breaks.

Though there were certain positive aspects on usage of technology such as (1) playing video games developing visual acuity (that could prevent traffic accidents in the future, still need to be verified), (2) multi-taskers being more sensitive to incoming new information, and (3) the evolutionary development of the constant growing neural circuitry in the brain (though still need to be proven), the seemingly more obvious negative effects really got to me this week.
Ironically after I took the survey below for MTA I was furious with the “bad idea” group. WHY NOT??? EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE WORLD HAS CELL RECEPTION!!!!! See, this type of behavior is scary, to say the least. Where do you stand?

LINK: Straphangers Campaign Poll

Click here to view results of older polls
http://www.straphangers.org | http://www.nypirg.org


About marialarahwang

Doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University.

5 responses to ““The Technology is Re-Wiring Our Brains””

  1. curiousstuff says :

    INFORMATION OVERLOAD! SYSTEM TERMINATED!!! Although the research might be still in its infancy, I do agree that we evolve and adapt to our environment and new technologies. Our ancestors were not walking upright, and they were not listening to music on their portable music players while traveling on the train. 🙂 Adapting will take time. As it is addressed in the NY Times article, especially the new generations will be constantly challenged in balancing their interaction with technology; their interaction with other people and environment via technology, and without technology. There will be new health disorders due to the over stimulating environment, gadgets and platforms, but I’m hopeful that future generations will evolve and adapt.

    On the other hand I understand your concern, I find myself checking my email constantly sometimes as often as every 3-4 mins. on subway, waiting, walking, shopping, in class, working, reading, on the phone …etc. and it can be scary. And I know i distract myself with every refresh, it’s an ongoing battle between me and the refresh button. Like Connor in the article I also google and research on wikipedia about things I read in an article or hear on TV, simultaneously interrupting both activities. (I don’t think I’m as obsessed as Connor though)

    Finally when making cellphone reception available on subway stations, the starting point should not be “WHY NOT??? EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE WORLD HAS CELL RECEPTION!!!!!” Probably some better questions to ask are “Is NYC Subway system experience designed in a way that commuters can travel safely while using their cellphones?” “What kind of problems might occur when x% of the people are multitasking, how can these problems be avoided …etc” In the article by Alain Findeli, he considers any type of service as a prodcut of design. (Findeli, 2001) So how can the subway experience better designed for the commuters with cellphone reception? And I don’t have an asnwer, just that every possibility should be taken into consideration when making a service available for public use… (pinar)

  2. marialarahwang says :


    Thanks Pinar…you are right! I guess the proper(?) questions we should be asking about the new MTA proposal are what you suggested. Though I think with just a little bit of time people will get used to the new implementations quickly enough.

  3. marialarahwang says :

    PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF CONNECTION (By J Donath and d boyd)

    The authors’ hypothesis grabbed my attention from this reading:
    “the number of strong ties an individual can maintain may nit be greatly increased by communication technology…but…the number of weak ties one can form and maintain may be able to increase substantially, because the type of communication that can be done more cheaply and easily with new technology is well suited for these ties” (p. 80).

    Lindsey D. mentioned last week (I believe) that there are those people, acquaintances, perhaps that you are necessarily not very colse to but because of different technologies that are cheaply available to us you keep in touch with. When I asked one of my roommates whether she agreed with the above hypothesis she said the exact same thing. There are friends that you got in touch with again from like elementary school because of FB (the example she gave me…of course) and you have those awkward asynchronous conversations and “maintain” a once-in-a-while-check-in relationship. However, she said that your closest ties and friends you are going to communicate with them no matter what the medium is. After reading this article and talking to some people about this I think I am definitely supporting Donath and boyd’s hypothesis now.

    • Christina R. says :

      I really enjoyed both of your comments, Pinar and Maria. 🙂

      I think with new technologies, cultural norms and etiquette will adapt.

      As for maintaining ties… I don’t know if it’s just me, but “we should grab coffee” is becoming a catchphrase on SNS sites between people with both weak and strong ties. The only difference is, the latter has an additional step of calling/texting to confirm, while the former is just a public display of connectivity/name dropping. Association by default. Weak, yet durable to maintain reputation and access more information. To start off with where you ended on your quote:
      “…it implies that the technologies that expand one’s social network will primarily result is an increase in available information and opportunities–the benefits of a large, heterogeneous network [25,31]” (p.80).
      Yet, I think one can also argue that through SNS sites, weaker ties can develop into stronger ties because the type of communication is more “cheaply and easily” available for people to foster/drop relationships. More increased information about multifaceted aspects of individuals will either impress/appall people. Relationships always change so it’s either strengthening or loosening ties.

  4. marialarahwang says :

    Thanks for your comment Christina.

    I agree! Because a lot of technologies are so cheaply and easily available the potential these technologies could have are limitless. Weak ties could remain weak but definitely it could get stronger. If anything, I experienced that I have gotten connected to some old friends all the way back from elementary school that I thought I would never “see” even again in my life. Through FB and as well as CyWorld (which I think you might be familiar with) I have “rekindled” some friendships, though they remained online and were temporary. At least the almost disappearing weakest ties became moderately weak ties for these old friends I speak of 🙂

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