Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Using Smartphones Can Consume Us

A recent Chicago Tribune article looks at the problem of people constantly using smartphones while in a theater. It explains how most people do it without really understanding that it's a distraction for others. Commenting on people texting and tweeting during his shows, comedian Bill Burr wittingly remarked, "half the world is acting as if they're documenting events for a magazine they're not working for."

Here are a couple of interesting paragraphs that talk about the chemical reaction going on in our brains and its effects:
"There are studies about the craving we have for new information. It's pretty clear that when we get a new little piece of information, our brains release some dopamine — which is the neurotransmitter chemical that is how the brain encourages us to do things; it's also the chemical implicated in most addictions. And as you get rewarded by that kind of pleasure of getting a new piece of information, you want to repeat that. … There is something very deep and very primitive in our minds that wants us to gather every little bit of information around us."


Reached by phone, Greenfield explained the potential downside of all that dopamine. "You're on constant high alert, your adrenaline is rushing because you're clicking and you're texting and as soon as you respond a new thing flashes up. In terms of human beings up until now, this is an unusually fast-paced interactive activity. And we know that dopamine dampens an important frontal part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex," which can cause people to behave more recklessly and with less empathy toward others, she said.

"What our mobile screens seem to encourage is going into a mode that is a rather early stage for the human brain — it's one that small children are in, which has a strong sensory focus and it's very exciting and arousing. This is very different from adult human cognition normally."

But both Greenfield and Zecker point to psychological factors relating to self-worth. Or as Greenfield put it: "One can point to things like Twitter and wonder why people say, 'Look at me doing this' and so on. It reminds me of a small child: 'Look at me, mummy.' Because if you don't look at me and give me feedback, I won't exist."
Something to think about as we should all be considering how to limit the amount of distractions in our lives and also not be consumed with telling the world where we are and what we are doing.

I also thought Nicholas Carr's (author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains) final remark of the article was spot-on:""We have trained ourselves to multitask even when we're relaxing."


1 comment:

  1. You know I love this stuff...great/scary article about how this technology is shaping our brains and changing our habits. More fodder as I consider whether or not to get a smart phone. I think most of the world doesn't even evaluate these effects at all, believing that if our phones are smart, then we don't have to be.