The NY Times, on Monday, had an article about the effects of extensive computer use and interconnection on human cognition. The usual concerns are raised about attention deficits, lack of concentration, obsessive activity, and the like. The story focuses on a family that is, well, flying through The Intertubes, often to the detriment of what needs to get done:
When one of the most important e-mail messages of his life landed in his in-box a few years ago, Kord Campbell overlooked it.
Not just for a day or two, but 12 days. He finally saw it while sifting through old messages: a big company wanted to buy his Internet start-up.
“I stood up from my desk and said, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’ ” Mr. Campbell said. “It’s kind of hard to miss an e-mail like that, but I did.”
The message had slipped by him amid an electronic flood: two computer screens alive with e-mail, instant messages, online chats, a Web browser and the computer code he was writing….
While he managed to salvage the $1.3 million deal after apologizing to his suitor, Mr. Campbell continues to struggle with the effects of the deluge of data.
Sounds like a busy guy, but this, in the middle of the article, is probably the most important point–and ignored by the author (italics mine):
More broadly, cellphones and computers have transformed life. They let people escape their cubicles and work anywhere. They shrink distances and handle countless mundane tasks, freeing up time for more exciting pursuits.
The real potential damage stems not from the cognitive effects, since we have already invented plenty of idiot-making devices, such as television, but from the ever-expanding nature of the workplace. Sure, it’s nice to be able to do some work at home–although when I work at home, I turn off my email. But what all of this interconnectedness really means is that you can never escape work. It’s basically a way to increase productivity without wage compensation.
Many jobs don’t have this problem: a skilled machinist doesn’t bring his machine press home. His work stays at work. Likewise, if you have a job you love doing, this isn’t a problem (on the other hand, then it’s not really work either, but well compensated play). However, for many ‘knowledge workers’, not only is constant connectedness a source of economic exploitation (you’re typically working far longer than your play suggests), but it also means you never really get time off. Maybe I’m just antiquated or something, but I don’t think we were meant, either biologically or philosophically, to spend all our time generating gross domestic product.
Sometimes, you have to be out of the office for your own health.