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How Interactive Media Can Scramble Your Brain

| December 17, 2013

by Jim Bruce

The Tuesday Reading today is an essay “How Interactive Media Can Scramble Your Brain” by James O’Toole that appeared earlier this past fall in strategy+business.  O’Toole is a senior fellow in business ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the author of 17 books including The Executive’s Compass.

Some, certainly, and perhaps many, of you are saying, “Not another piece on multitasking!” to which I respond, “Yes, with some really interesting research data.”
Research from Clifford Nass, who, until his recent death, was the Thomas M. Storke Professor at Stanford and director of its Communication between Humans and Interactive Media Laboratory, points to a number of serious consequences for human development and workplace productivity.
Nass’ findings include:
  • the average college student accesses three media sources simultaneously with 25% using four or more
  • such multitasking results in not paying attention.  E.g., consider your ability to track both what’s going on in the picture on your television screen and read the text in crawling across the bottom
  • multitaskers have difficulty identifying what’s important, and are generally unable to ignore the unimportant
  • multitaskers are less able to write coherently
  • new media addicts are poor at reading people
  • being always on – chat windows open, cell phone available – impairs the ability to do your work, particularly work in teams.
[Nass discussed his work at TEDxStanford and in his book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop – What Machines Teach us About Human Relationships.]
These are daunting findings. So, think carefully about the multitasking you do.  It’s really not all that good for you.  And, during this holiday season, when you are with your friends and family, try putting away those devices and have some real face-to-face conversation.  It’s a really nice thing to do.
Have a wonderful holiday.  The Tuesday Reading will return on January 7, 2014.
.  .  .  .     jim