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05/04/2005 Archived Entry: "E-mail addles the mind"


... the study said "an average worker's functioning IQ falls 10 points when distracted by ringing telephones and incoming e-mails ... more than double the four-point drop seen following studies on the impact of smoking marijuana."

The report cited a 2002 report on marijuana use by researchers from Carleton University in Ottawa.

The research found that 62 percent of adults are addicted to checking e-mail and text messages. Half of the workers would "respond to an e-mail immediately or within 60 minutes."

One in 5 is "happy to interrupt a business or social meeting to respond to an e-mail or telephone message."

This was the result of a study commissioned by HP. We all know that results of isolated studies have to be taken with a grain of salt. But this one smacks me in the face as intiutively true.

One reason I didn't blog in the last few days was that I'm trying to wrap up a slightly overdue Loompanics book. To keep myself from distractedly checking e-mail or surfing TCF every few minutes, I finally had to resort to yanking the wireless card out of my computer and stashing it in a closet. I'd plug it back in three times a day, do stuff, then closet it again.

Now, I am not and have never been an addictive-type person. I can smoke, drink, do drugs, or eat fattening glop without ever having the slightest craving to do more, more, more. But "info-mania," as the article describes it, I understand and am increasingly distressed by.

Part of it, for me, has just been the good (or bad) old-fashioned writer's desire to do anything, absolutely anything, to avoid actually sitting down and focusing on the writing. If I weren't reading e-mail to avoid writing, I'd find some other activity wildly attractive. (I MUST WASH THAT TEACUP. RIGHT NOW.) (This is notorious, traditional writer behavior that is at least slightly preferable to those other notorious traditional writer behaviors: alcoholism, insanity, and suicide.)

But info-mania has, in some ways, the same mindless, hypnotic pull as TV watching. (You know how that is when your eyes and mind keep focusing numbly on the screen, even when what's on is utterly uninteresting.) I'm not at all surprised to find that hyper-surfing and hyper-clicking on "get mail" results in an effective IQ drop of 10 points.

When I avoid work by getting up to wash a teacup or by sitting out on the deck petting a dog or banging on a bodhran, I'm in a fundamentally different mind-state than when I numbly click and read. Not just a different mind-state, but a better one. Engaged. Aware. Open. Expansive. I'm embracing the outside world. Whereas the click-click-click activity shuts the immediate physical world out (even as it lets emanations from the distant world in).

And yes -- sigh -- I can see the functional IQ drop in my own life. When I walk away from the computer to wash a dish or take a walk, ideas rush in that eventually carry me back to my work, refreshed and renewed. When I practice work avoidance by click-click-clicking, I merely find myself brain-numb and unable to focus on the flow and pattern of my writing.

Yesterday morning I made great progress on the book, so at lunch I "allowed" myself as much time as I wanted with the network card plugged in. But within half an hour, I was horrified by how I felt -- hunched over, jangly, tense, distracted ... very much like I might once have felt after an idle evening before the TV set, but with the added stress of feeling I had to "do something" about every message, article, or post I read.

I yanked the card, walked out into the yard and pulled weeds for an hour -- after which I felt like dancing.

I have a friend who's an addict of major proportions. He has kicked speed, heroin, and booze, but he'll still get addicted to any addictive thing that wanders into his life -- and he's well aware of that problem. He won't even touch an Internet-connected computer. At first I thought that was just a silly excuse to cover garden-variety technophobia. But the more I see, the more I realize the wisdom in his understanding of his own, and the Net's, nature.

I dunno about these people who answer their e-mails within minutes. I'm always glad to send mail to one of those e-wonders, but as anyone who ever corresponded with me realizes, I'm definitely not one of them. And you can expect me to become less and less and less of one ...

... Sometime after I respond to the next heap of overdue e-mail that I've just got to get to right now.

(Article on the HP study found on Rational Review News.)

Posted by Claire @ 09:57 AM CST

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