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Your Brain on Technology Overload | MyLifeStages
This week, we've been talking about technology overload.  Continuing the discussion, we spoke with Edie Zusman, MD, a neurosurgeon with Eden Medical Center, about how multi-tasking impacts our brains.
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Pinterest Pin ItYour Brain on Technology Overload

Your Brain on Technology Overload

Posted on 02/14/2013  by  Healthy Living Blog 

This week, we've been talking about technology overload.  Continuing the discussion, we spoke with Edie Zusman, MD, a neurosurgeon with Eden Medical Center, about how multi-tasking impacts our brains. Dr. Zusman has written about the impact of technology overload on physicians in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Our opportunities for multi-tasking – and being interrupted – have grown greatly over the last few years. The phone that used to sit on the kitchen wall is now in our pocket or purse, so we can be called anywhere. But it’s not just a phone, it’s a mini-computer itself, so all the new technology distractions are always with us.

Is this a good thing? Most would give a resounding “Yes!” to that question. What’s wrong with information and entertainment at your fingertips? Who wouldn’t want easy communication with anyone, anywhere? But can our brains can handle the sheer amount of input coming our way?

Are there disadvantages to using multiple technology gadgets at the same time?

Dr. Zusman says: Multi-tasking can be a wonderful thing. Any parent learns to be a multi-tasking genius. So knowing how to divide our attention is not necessarily a bad thing.

The problem arises when you are focused on a single, important task. Let’s say you are a student studying for a test, or at work, engaged in a crucial project. An e-mail flashes in front of your eyes, or a text message “bings” on your cell phone. Two things happen:

• You turn your attention away from the main task. Even if your distraction is only 15 seconds, it may take your brain 2-3 minutes to fully return your attention to the primary task. Therefore, your study session or project will take longer than anticipated.

• Many neurologists also believe that with frequent interruptions, it may be harder for you to convert the information you are studying into intermediate and long term memory. You may not “own” that information in your long-term memory in the way you had hoped.

Are younger people better at this, since they grew up using their brains in this manner?

Yes, young people who grew up with these devices are better at multi-tasking with them. They are surprisingly good at processing this incoming information. However, the basic points above still apply to them: multi-tasking during an important period of learning will make students less efficient at the primary task. It’s fine for socializing, but not an ideal way to learn or work on something important.

What about older people? Is this “technology overload” more difficult for the older brain to process?

I have not seen hard science on this particular topic. But in my practice, I do know that older people often have a harder time rapidly changing topics. So the advice about shutting off distractions during important work is great advice for older folks, especially.

Having said that, it is true that active stimulation of the brain is wonderful as we age. So learning new technologies such as computers and cell phones, exploring new topics, and staying connected with people are all good ideas for the aging brain.

Bottom line?

Dr. Zusman says: When it’s time to focus, turn off the distracting devices. Return to them when you are done with your studying, project or intense conversation. All the information will still be waiting for you.


Joanesix wrote on 11/01/2015

I have been diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety since my father committed suicide( 1964) and a nephew as well.(2001) I believe that the psychologist gave me uppers and then Downers. I fell and hit a cast iron sink while getting out of a shower in a motel in San Diego. I have had a lot of ups and downs. So many people claim to have mental issues (bipolar, mostly. I am 69 ( a female)and have had ECT which is still around.I am glad that bipolar is advertised on TV. There is not enough research in my opinion. Not enough pharmacist willing to spend money to help.

smithclaire wrote on 08/01/2013

Hey, there's a health conference going on this Tuesday and Wednesday titled "Lessons for Healthy Living 2.0", and they are just asking for any donation to attend online. Check it out: www.LessonsForHealthyLiving.com Looks great, I'm going!