Your Brain on Computers – Studying the Brain Off the Grid, Professors Find Clarity – NYTimes.com

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Here’s an interesting read on NYTimes.com about five academics taking an experimental trip into nature without their technology. This is more research into how technology might be affecting our brains, or our ability to think with them at least. There’s an interesting debate about what constitutes an “urgent” communication. I maintain that there is almost nothing that can’t wait a little while. Unless a hospital needs your blood urgently for a life-saving operation, just about any other news will “still be there” if you wait a bit.

One of the academics checks his Blackberry just before setting out on the trip, which is into an area without cellphone coverage. Remarks are made:

Back in the car, Mr. Kramer says he checked his phone because he was waiting for important news: whether his lab has received a $25 million grant from the military to apply neuroscience to the study of ergonomics. He has instructed his staff to send a text message to an emergency satellite phone the group will carry with them.

Mr. Atchley says he doesn’t understand why Mr. Kramer would bother. “The grant will still be there when you get back,” he says.

“Of course you’d want to know about a $25 million grant,” Mr. Kramer responds. Pressed by Mr. Atchley on the significance of knowing immediately, he adds: “They would expect me to get right back to them.”

It is a debate that has become increasingly common as technology has redefined the notion of what is “urgent.” How soon do people need to get information and respond to it? The believers in the group say the drumbeat of incoming data has created a false sense of urgency that can affect people’s ability to focus.

At the end of the trip they continue to speculate. Does addiction to our gadgets lead to poor decision-making (like txting while driving)? Are we being rude when we check our gadgets in meetings with real people (yes)? Do we think more clearly if we take frequent rests from all the stimulation?

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