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Stop Twittering and Switch Off Your Phone.
on 30 January 2015
Neuroscientists, who study the highly complex nervous system, are not noted for their humour but the author of this excellent book is an exception. Most of the nervous system action takes place in the brain. Woody Allen said the brain was his second favourite organ, Every secon, the author tells us, we are bombarded by information. This has now been dramatically increased by emails and texts. This is hardly new, however Levitkin examines what effect this is having on our brains and asks are we being overloaded by an information explosion? He is well qualified to write this as he has a PhD in psychology, and is currently a Professor of psychology, behavioural neuroscience and music at McGill a prestigious Canadian university. Previous books by him have examined the brain and music, all have been acclaimed.
That we are becoming addicted to information, much of it trite and useless, is beyond dispute as a train journey, a meal out or watching people walking about feverishly clutching a mobile phone to the ear will prove. Phonemania has made many of us like Swiss Army knives. Multitasking is now commonplace. The author, a cognitive scientist, believes multitasking is a 'diabolical illusion' . What it does is to overtax the brain thus preventing this remarkable organ from resting or daydreaming. He argues that computers have not freed us from drudgery, they have instead exposed us to infomania. Every day during our leisure time, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words. The world's 21,274 tv stations produce 85,000 hours of programming every day. On average, we watch 5 hours of tv a day. YouTube uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. Computer gaming consumes more bytes than all other media put together. In brief, we have made a world with 300,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of human-made information. The key problem we now face is how to separate the trivial from the important, and this is very tiring. Neurons are living cells, they demand a great deal of oxygen and glucose to survive, and when tired make us feel fatigued. The danger is that our attentional filter can become overwhelmed. That is why leaders employ subordinates to narrow the filter for them. The overpaid sports agent frees the player to concentrate on his or her game. The chauffeur relieves you of the worry and stress of driving. This author suggests how we can deal with overload. His tips are fascinating.
Levitin reminds us that the increase in scientific information alone is staggering. In 1700, a science graduate knew as much as as any expert today. Now even a PhD in Biology will not mean you know all that is known in that subject. It is, of course, making research in all major disciplines much more difficult. For example, research into the nervous system of a squid attracts over 30,000 research articles on that topic on Google alone. Books and articles on the Great War amount to many thousands and increase every year.
Levitkin quotes research by other leading neuroscientists to demonstrate that our brains are not wired to do multitasking. Those who believe otherwise are he saysl deluded. Multitasking, he argues, is in fact harmful for it prevents our brain from recalibrating.
Surprisingly, Levitkin polnts out that many leading business figures still prefer pen and paper instead of electronic devices. Many famous writers, such as JK Rowling, have said the same. The author says he uses pen and paper when undertaking his research. He supports these preferences with reference to recent research. He adds that our brain takes in more if we read books in paper form than if we read it on an e book reader. Retention is also improved. Studies also indicate that work quality is improved if people do one thing at a time. Clearly, to do this would pose a massive problem for many employers and employees.
The author is at pains to stress that technology is not immoral or harmful, it is how we use it. Overuse causes problems such as tiredness and high stress. We become far less creative. The clear message is switch off your phone, stop checking your email every thirty seconds and avoid twitter.
A thought provoking book of great importance. I am amazed that anyone can find it boring. Human ingenuity has devised systems to free our wonderful brains of clutter. All are designed to improve the brain, or shed some of its key functions to external sources, memory being one. But the result is we are now in danger of becoming addicted to and prisoners of these systems. Hippocrates said in the 5th century that: 'only when the brain is quiet can man think properly'.
A knowledge of biology and psychology, is useful, but is not essential, for understanding and enjoying this remarkable and ground breaking book.