The Neurological and Creative Toll of Digital Overload

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If you’re like a lot of people, during your work day you might check 40 websites. You could be switching between programs such as Word and Excel and your email application 36 times an hour. You probably stop what you’re doing — or at least pause — when a text message buzzes or an email comes in or your cell phone rings.

Matt Richtel, technology reporter for the New York Times, says in an interview on the NPR program Fresh Air that for all the productivity upsides to digital consumption, there are huge downsides, too, including changes in the brain that seem to affect not just the ability to engage in conversation but the ability to be creative, too.

“Twenty years of glorifying all technology as if all computers were good and all use of it was good, I think science is beginning to embrace the idea that some technology is Twinkies and some technology is Brussels sprouts,” Richtel says. “If we consume too much technology, just like if we consume too much food, it can have ill effects. And that is the moment in time we find ourselves in . . .with the way we are digesting, if you will, technology all over the place.”

Richtel notices, he says, that he’s “not quite as engaged in my world when I’m constantly using devices as I am when I’m away from them.” Away from them, “I can give myself over to conversations a little bit differently.”

Awarded a Pulitzer Prize this year for his Times series “Driven to Distraction,” about the dangers of driving while multitasking with cell phones and other devices, Richtel says that the digital glut appears to not just increase distraction but decrease creativity.

See, for instance, what happens after a periodic gadget fast.

After three days, he says, “you start to feel more relaxed. Maybe you sleep a little better. Maybe you don’t reach for your phone pinging in your pocket or even feel compelled to. Maybe you wait a little longer before answering a question. Maybe you don’t feel in a rush to do anything. Your sense of urgency fades.


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Comments (9)
Digital Sabbath | Quentin Flokstra
[…] article speaks of the neurological impact that digital technology is having on us.  A salient quote from […]
The importance of down time « Do You Accept?
[...] works, a brief description of which appears in this article from MIT’s Sloan Review entitled The Neurological and Creative Toll of Digital Overload. When you’re working on something, taking time off from it solidifies those neural [...]
Jason Denning
I really like that you compared technology to food, and how some is good but some is bad. I personally have had troubles sleeping because of technology overload so I really enjoyed this article.
Great Articles to read during a storm | Radio KBHR
[...] The Neurological and Creative Toll of Digital Overload (MIT Sloan Management Review) [...]
Viktor O. Ledenyov
Effective data management in corporations in digital century will be performed with application of quantum algorithms using quantum computers networks.

Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine
San Francisco Attractions
I know when I go camping for a week I feel really different after not using my cell phone at all.

Maybe each day we need several hours of absolutely no interaction with any electrical device at all.  Good luck with that!
This article is especially interesting in the light of recent research on psychological distance, 'peaceful' cogitation and creativity -- some of which is condensed into a blog post I read recently at
I enjoyed this article because it sustains what I have always felt when I watch commuters pinging and zipping on their devices, nose down, eyes casted away from their fellow species, wasting their precious downtime on self-created stimuli. We know that children's creative development suffers from hyper stimulation, why shouldn't ours.
This article shows a real situation of what technology is addressing in terms of productivity and in terms of human behavior! Stress doctor are going to be very requested in order to tacke the lack of attention in the important matters!