Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Poor Attention Span Due to Internet Usage? Hmm...

As I sit here on my computer trying to write a blog post, I am realizing how difficult it is to pay attention to what i'm doing. I have a ridiculous number of tabs open and am multi-tasking with almost every application on this darn computer. I can't seem to keep my mind to one thing- I seem to endlessly repeat the process of forgetting what i'm doing, seeing another tab and remembering what I was doing on it, switching to that tab, and then forgetting why I switched tabs.

Ahh! Tab Mania!

It's not just the internet. I'm currently reading (attempting to maintain the attention to read) Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, but actually sitting down and reading a book or printed newspaper is becoming more and more of a challenge. My struggle to stay on task led me to wonder if other internet users are suffering the same situation. Well after spending some time randomly surfing around the internet going from website to website looking for answers, it turns out that most people do. (Yay! I'm not crazy). According to Wikipedia (I know, not the most reliable source- but I was feeling lazy when looking up the stats), the average internet user spends only one minute per website. Huh. Unbelievable. Oh, wait that's what I was just doing before coming across that statistic. According to a BBC news article, excessive internet usage can reduce an individual's attention span to only 9 seconds- that's the same as a goldfish.

But not only does internet usage reduce attention span- it can also affect your ability to remember information that you encounter. Here's Patricia Cohen's summary of an experiment conducted by Columbia University's Betsy Sparrow:
"Dr. Sparrow and her collaborators, Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, staged four different memory experiments. In one, participants typed 40 bits of trivia — for example, “an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain” — into a computer. Half of the subjects believed the information would be saved in the computer; the other half believed the items they typed would be erased.

The subjects were significantly more likely to remember information if they thought they would not be able to find it later. “Participants did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statement they had read,” the authors write.

A second experiment was aimed at determining whether computer accessibility affects precisely what we remember. “If asked the question whether there are any countries with only one color in their flag, for example,” the researchers wrote, “do we think about flags — or immediately think to go online to find out?”

In this case, participants were asked to remember both the trivia statement itself and which of five computer folders it was saved in. The researchers were surprised to find that people seemed better able to recall the folder."

Here's Sparrow in an interview-

Creepy, Huh? So it looks like going outside and getting some good ole' fashion exercise instead of sitting on the computer all day would be a pretty good idea. Which leads me to my main conclusion: wait... what am I talking about again?

1 comment:

  1. Hey - you kids turn that thing off and go outside now!