Tech overload: Are your digital toys ruining your focus?
It seems that everyone is always “plugged in” these days — to the Internet via their computers, smartphones, tablet PCs and iPads®, to friends and family via social networking, to conversations via mobile phones and texting. All of these digital toys and 24/7/365 connectivity with the world might be great for information-gathering and communication, but are they also “too much of a good thing?”
The belief that the Internet and cell phones are addictive is widespread among laypeople and experts alike, and as such there is a growing push for people to “unplug” from time to time, to help both their focus and concentration and also to restore sanity to an increasingly fragmented world. We spoke with some psychologists and educators on how working learners can learn to get the most from their digital toys while still keeping their mental focus and concentration sharp.
Patricia Thompson, PhD, is an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist who has also taught courses at the university level, and she doesn’t mince words when it comes to how overuse of electronic devices can become distracting. “Yes, I do believe that too much use of electronic devices can reduce mental focus,” she says. “A recent study at University of California-San Francisco found that when you multitask [with digital devices], you have more difficulty ignoring irrelevant information. In addition, electronic devices can be addictive. The nickname ‘Crackberry’ has definitely come about for a reason!”
Also, Dr. Thompson is quick to point out that it is easy for anyone — students, professionals and working learners — to become “slaves” to their digital devices, which can impede both mental focus and quality of life. “Whether I’m dealing with students or executives, far too many people have reported that emails have more control over them than they would like. For many, even if they are working on something, the lure of finding out what an email says is too much to resist.”
Dr. Thompson also believes it is important for everyone to “unplug” from their digital devices from time to time. “I have heard a lot of people admit that when they have to be unplugged on vacation (because they don’t have wireless/Internet reception), it is a really freeing experience,” she says.
Ruth Geiman, PhD, Product Director for the University of Phoenix Center for Mathematics Excellence, agrees. “Overuse of any electronic device is not recommended,” she says.
However, Dr. Geiman also believes that when used properly, digital devices offer a wealth of information and learning opportunities for students. “When students use electronic devices to study, or use their media time as a reward for completing assignments, they are taking advantage of the incredible tools that are available via these devices,” she says. “Technology gives students new opportunities for accessing educational material and completing assignments.”
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