Connemara, County Galway.
Many of us live a life of information overload, and we all need a break now and then from our computers, our e-mails and our online social networks. Unlike the poor folk living remotely in the countryside with intermittent connections (that were featured in Susan’s article), we would like to get to decide when we take ourselves off the grid.
In this New York Times article “Outdoors And Out Of Reach, Studying The Brain“, five scientists disconnected themselves from the Internet, or as we like to think of it these days, civilisation.
They are five different characters, and it is not much of a surprise that they reacted to their field trip/experiment in five different ways. Apart from this being an entertaining account, I don’t think I am spoiling the ending when I tell you it concludes with the idea that getting away from it all every now and then is good for you.
But a subtheme in the article is very interesting: “Why don’t brains adapt to the heavy stimulation, turning us into ever-stronger multitaskers?”
We are well practiced with computers, dealing with e-mails, managing ourselves so we are always in a position to give a ‘timely response’ via our smart phones or from a laptop in a cafe. But it is stressful, and unlike so many more activities like playing the piano, or speaking a foreign language, we don’t seem to get better at it the more we do it. Faster maybe, but not really better. Once you have the hang of forming a tweet, there isn’t much in the way of advanced work to do.
Could it be that our interactions with computers are turning us into over-worked robots? With playing a piano or speaking another language, or joining in with a great many recreational games, there is a learning component inherent in the activity. Putting in the effort results in greater proficiency, no matter how flat the learning curve.
I would imagine for you, just like me, all the requests for action that come through the screen every day – “When is this?”, “Where is that?”, “What time will…?”, “Can you..?”, ”Would you be interested…” – are very much of a similar nature in their daily repetitiveness and are dealt with in a correspondingly similar way. This is the fabric of our connected lives, and there is great benefit in how we form our communications to make our life easier, but there is a robotic element to it as well.
Going off the grid once a week, taking ourselves away from the online world and reminding ourselves of our immediate world would – if the NYT article is anything to go by – be a good thing, and it might just save us from being slaves to the machine.
One piece of irony in the article was the discussion about how scientists are spending more effort on learning how we as humans focus. I say ironic because as the scientists began to relax themselves and relax into their surroundings, they began to see more and hear more, and exhibited a greater awareness of themselves as being alive and on the planet. Now that is being focused – everything else is just a distraction.