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Are Computers Changing Your Brain?

Research says that information overload causes distraction.

We’ve previously spent time worrying that the internet and computers are changing the way we think and process information. The New York Times recently had a rather sad article which gives an account of the negative impacts of technology on our ability to focus. Constant digital stimulation is creating attention problems:

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress. And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.

The article includes two simple interactive tests, one where you can test your focus, and one where you can test your ability to juggle tasks. I took the test and am actually better at concentrating when there are more distractions. If you knew me, this might not come as a surprise.

The heavy concern laid out in the article is that the overuse of technology may diminish our empathy by limiting our interaction with each other.

This got me thinking. Is there something we can do, as designers of technology, to make things that help our brains?* Should we be thinking about design which helps users concentrate? Or are our jumpy, distracted thought patterns a necessary side effect of the Information Age?

I discussed this with a colleague, who wryly suggested we write novels, not blogs. Hmmm….

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AndreaJun 16, 2010

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