Cal­cu­lat­ing types

Mod­ern tech­nol­ogy de­pletes hu­man cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties more rapidly than drugs

Finweek English Edition - - Openers -

re­ly­ing on com­puter spell-checks.

Of course, this col­umn couldn’t have been com­piled or sent for pub­li­ca­tion with­out ac­cess­ing the In­ter­net. Do­ing so, I came across the news – in some­thing called The Reg­is­ter – that a study of more than 100 000 chil­dren in more than 30 coun­tries re­vealed that non-com­puter us­ing kids per­formed bet­ter in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy schools than PC-us­ing chil­dren. Ap­par­ently ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts have named this the “prob­lem solv­ing deficit dis­or­der” af­ter the in­fa­mous At­ten­tion Deficit Dis­or­der.

In an­other star­tling reve­la­tion, re­sults of a psy­chi­atric study at King’s Col­lege in Lon­don in­di­cated that mod­ern tech­nol­ogy de­pletes hu­man cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties more rapidly than drugs. While mar­i­juana users suf­fer on av­er­age a 5% loss in IQ scores, email users lose 10% a clin­i­cal King’s Col­lege trial of 1 000 par­tic­i­pants showed.

“Dozi­ness, lethargy and an in­abil­ity to fo­cus are clas­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics” of ad­dicts, but email users ex­hib­ited those par­tic­u­lar symp­toms to a “star­tling” de­gree, ac­cord­ing to Dr Glenn Wil­son of King’s Col­lege.

Wil­son’s re­search showed that email ad­dicts were bom­barded by con­text switches and de­vel­oped an in­abil­ity to dis­tin­guish be­tween triv­ial and sig­nif­i­cant mes­sages. Wil­son found that an alarm­ing 20% of tri­al­ists jeop­ar­dised their im­me­di­ate so­cial re­la­tions by rush­ing off to “check their mes­sages” in the mid­dle of a con­ver­sa­tion.

Half a cen­tury ago Swedish re­searchers dis­cov­ered that an ex­ec­u­tive is in­ter­rupted ev­ery few min­utes through­out a nor­mal work­ing day. To­day, that prob­lem has been com­pounded by the email phe­nom­e­non. One re­searcher es­ti­mates that an email can cause an av­er­age dis­rup­tion of three min­utes.

It takes on av­er­age one minute and 44 sec­onds to re­act to a new email no­ti­fi­ca­tion by ac­ti­vat­ing the email ap­pli­ca­tion. Hav­ing dealt with the email there’s re­call time, in which around 60 sec­onds is taken get­ting back to the work be­ing done prior to the email dis­rup­tion.

Among the ben­e­fits of re­tire­ment is that I have not be­come em­broiled in the man­age­ment-by-email syn­drome. Em­ploy­ing our god given gift for ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion is so ob­vi­ously su­pe­rior to send­ing each other long-winded memos or dozens of crisp lit­tle emails that it’s be­yond un­der­stand­ing that we don’t use it as the prin­ci­pal means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in our daily in­ter­face with col­leagues.

It’s sim­ply not pos­si­ble to con­vey to an­other per­son one’s feel­ings con­cern­ing a mat­ter – as op­posed to fac­tual in­for­ma­tion – with­out speak­ing to them, prefer­ably in per­son but if not by phone, cell­phone or CCTV.

Mes­sag­ing can be use­ful or it can be a se­ri­ous com­mer­cial curse, re­duc­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, dam­ag­ing per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, los­ing the value of face-to-face hu­man in­ter­change and even, as the King’s Col­lege stud­ies show, erod­ing in­di­vid­ual IQ lev­els and in­flict­ing on email­ers the symp­toms of drug ad­dic­tion.

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