Tuesday, July 10, 2012

'Crazy busy' and internet distractions...

I wanted to pass on two recent NYTimes pieces: Tim Kreider makes the point that the 'busy' trap that many people drive themselves into the ground with is entirely a matter of their own choice:
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day...More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done...Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.
Jenna Wortham notes her experience that taking breaks to aimlessly wander around the Web during focused assignments seemed to make her more efficient. She then notes research asking whether the plasticity of our brains might be allow us to adapt to multi-tasking:
...consensus among scientists and researchers is that trying to juggle many tasks fractures our thinking and degrades the quality of each action. But understanding the plasticity of the brain, or its ability to adapt and reorganize its pathways, is still in its early stages...It may be that the brain — or some brains — can handle certain levels of multitasking and not others, he said. Surfing the Web and talking on the phone may not place the same demand on available cognitive resources as, say, cruising down the highway and sending a text message. It’s an area of research that scientists and psychologists are just starting to explore...if abilities can actually improve, the question is, by how much?

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