|Photo: Emma Sue Prince|
They’re more powerful and do more things than the most advanced computer at IBM corporate headquarters 30 years ago. And we use them all the time, part of a 21st-century mania for cramming everything we do into every single spare moment of downtime.
Technology has given us the ability to do anything we feel like at any time – every time we respond to our phone, look up something on the internet, check email or instant messages, send a text – every single time this tweaks the novelty-seeking, reward-seeking centres of our brain giving an enormous hit of dopamine – effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and constantly searching for external stimulation.
Our brains are not wired to multi-task when we do several things at once – all that is really happening
is that we are just switching from one thing to another really quickly.
And every time we switch there is a cognitive cost. Yet because of the power of dopamine, the urge to check and respond to messages or quickly look something up is in fact compelling. Why?
Dopamine is the culprit...
When the brain is presented with an unexpected reward, dopamine increases, prompting the limbic reward system to take note and remember how to repeat such a positive experience.
This impacts memory and habit formation.
So every time we get that hit of dopamine when we respond to our distractions, we are in effect teaching our brain to continue to do so which is why it feels so compelling to check each time we are aware of a new message or piece of information.
This has a big impact on our ability to manage time efficiently – we end up doing less. How many times have you started on one project only to flit to email and then to a message or a website because something random occurred to you.
By the time you’ve done that you will have lost momentum and concentration on what you were originally working on – it will now take you twice or three times as long to complete.
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