A number of recent studies — brought to our attention in a wired article — has confirmed that our brains are actually being changed by the Internet. Here are some highlights to consider:
- One study concludes that when presented with hyperlinks, readers do not read — but rather clicks aimlessly. When asked later to describe what they supposedly ‘read’, they have no recollection.
- When study groups were asked to experience a passage as simple text, through hyperlinks, and as a multi-media presentation… the group who simply read the material understood it the best.
- In another case, the human learning process is likened to filling a bathtub with a thimble. The bathtub is your long term memory – and you are attempting to fill it up with facts, one thimble at a time from your short term memory. Every time you get interrupted — even the tiniest bit, the thimble empties – and you start at square one.
- The name given to the mental overhead associated tiny interruptions is the ‘switching cost’ — the cost of switching mental gears, so to speak.
The upshot of this is that we, as a species – are learning to not comprehend properly.
So what to do?
- Turn off your email ‘chime’. Most of us get alerted every time a new email arrives. We’re constantly interrupted; most of the time for emails that are just not that important.
- Respond to text messages when you can. Occasionally a text message is going to come at a time when you simply can’t respond immediately. When you’re driving, or your hands are full – or you’re in the middle of reading something that takes your full attention.
- Remember voicemail? Its your friend. Immediacy has become so paramount that we allow this interruption. Remember the 60’s when a ‘receptionist’ answered the phone, so that other people could get work done? Once again, important tasks require your undivided
- Don’t multitask when you’re doing something important. If something needs your full attention — ignore the cell phone, the email chime, and reduce your workspace to one window. In fact — the article states that “heavy multi-taskers were much more easily distracted, had significantly less control over their working memory, and were generally much less able to concentrate on a task”.