Inside looking out: Beware of technomanditis!
The following story is not true, but like anything the mind can imagine, it’s just a short hop from the make-believe to the probability of reality.
His name is Louis. He sits in his chair in Room 111 of the American Mental Health Institute. For six months now, Louis has not spoken since his arrival. He fidgets with his hands as if he wants to text on a cellphone. His eyes move continuously from left to right as if he’s reading words on a computer screen.
“Louis has what we call technomanditis,” says Dr. James to his wife, Doris. “He’s suffering from information overload.”
Doris explains the symptoms to the doctor that led her to bring him to the Institute.
“Louis carried his phone everywhere. He ate his food while reading his emails. He went to the bathroom Googling stuff like how do fish sleep and how to make a snowflake collection. He took his iPad to bed searching for everything that he thinks he needs to know. He’s sleep-deprived, food-starved and cannot function day-to-day anymore.”
Dr. James explained the diagnosis he retrieved from the Harvard Business Review.
“Current research suggests that the surging volume of available information - and its interruption of people’s work - can adversely affect not only personal well-being but also decision making, innovation and productivity.”
Doris responded, “When I asked him to take out two bags garbage, he made two trips because he kept his phone in his left hand. Once I hid his phone and iPad in the closet. He nearly had a nervous breakdown. I got scared and gave them back. Then he began using his phone and his iPad at the same time. The next night I found him sitting in the kitchen chair. His computer and his phone had lost their charges. He was still trying to Google and text into blank screens. That’s when I brought him here.”
Doris looked worried. “Are there long-term effects, doctor?”
“Ringing phones and email alerts lower IQs by 10 points,” he replied, “and your husband is not alone. Sixty percent of computer users check email in the bathroom.
“A typical worker turns to email 50 to 100 times a day. Eighty-five percent of computer users say they would take a laptop on vacation.
“Another set of problems involves the constant interruptions we face, whatever the value of the content. When you respond to an email alert that pops up on your screen or when you’re “poked” by a Facebook friend, you do more than spend time reading the message. You also have to recover from the interruption and refocus your attention. Eleven percent of people check email on the sly, even if they know it causes them stress. Forty-six percent of computer users say they are hooked on email and 15 percent of people have checked their email in church.”
“Is that all?” asked Doris.
“No,” said Dr. James. “Email worsens the quality of life for 31 percent of workers. And then they go home and relax by Googling baseball scores, how to cook a pot roast, and look at videos of scenes from old movies, making matters worse. The addiction is real.
“And then there’s the social media and the nightly news with more and more information and opinions to take in. The terminal effect for which there is no cure is the inability to think for ourselves. Our brain neurons become a mush from electronic stimuli and the end result can best be defined by what the Greek philosopher Socrates said when he was trying to discover the truth of things and ran into more questions than answers.”
“What did he say?” Doris asked.
“The only thing I know is that I don’t know anything.”
You might think this story is a bit extreme, but Lodestar Solutions says, “From an article on Industry Tap written by David Schilling, the host went on to say that not only is human knowledge, on average, doubling every 13 months, we are quickly on our way, with the help of the internet, to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. To put it into context, in 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every 100 years. By the end of 1945, the rate was every 25 years.”
Columnist Paul Chamberlain reports, “Arguably we may have reached a point where relevant knowledge is increasing faster and in greater quantities than we can absorb. However, while knowledge is increasing, the useful life span of knowledge is decreasing. Consequently, we need to be constantly replacing out-of-date knowledge with new knowledge in a continuous process of unlearning and learning. Knowledge alone however is not sufficient and as important is the ability to apply good judgment based on knowledge … what we know as wisdom. It is knowledge and wisdom put into action that gives us insight.”
I’m not alone in thinking that good judgment and wisdom are declining everywhere you look. I sometimes wonder if the less we know, the wiser we might be. First, our minds wouldn’t be cluttered by information overload, of which much is tainted by unnecessary opinions forced upon us. A clear mind thinks more clearly for making good judgment and wise decisions.
If I could get a mind vacuum, I’d suck out the excess info-dirt out of my brain. That might leave me ignorant of information, but if I really want to know what’s going on, I’ll just ask the first person I see and I’m certain I’ll get an earful.
Otherwise, I might learn that ignorance really is bliss.
Rich Strack can be reached at email@example.com.