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Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime 222

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-needs-me-a-break dept.
siliconbits writes with an excerpt from NY Times: "Technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas."
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Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime

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  • oh rly? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @09:55AM (#33368292) Homepage

    Why do you think I run Windows? ::rimshot::

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @09:59AM (#33368352)
    I lay down on the couch several times a day for 10 to 30 minutes and close my eyes, it does not matter if I fall asleep or not, just the act of closing my eyes and letting my mind rest does wonders for recharging my energy levels and clearing my mind of noise & clutter.
    • by Moryath (553296) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:08AM (#33368460)

      If only most of us could do that, rather than having shitty pointy-haired micromanager bosses who insist on minute-by-minute "productivity" scales.

      The day the 'worker productivity index' was invented was the day society started going to hell.

      • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:20AM (#33368598)

        I once heard a tale of someone who when faced with a boss who demanded updates every 15 minutes on what he was doing wrote a script which strung together meaningless management buzzwords in a vaguely sensible format and emailed them to his boss every 15 minutes.

        a few weeks later he gets an award for being a team player and keeping his boss in the loop.

        It's not like the boss ever reads them after the first day.

        • by boristdog (133725) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:04PM (#33369986)

          You do know that at least 20% of the folks on /. do this with our daily and weekly reports to the boss anyway, right?

          Don't give away ALL our secrets!

        • by Yvan256 (722131) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:11PM (#33370082) Homepage Journal

          That's because his boss also had a script, which tested the updates to see if they included meaningless management buzzwords in a vaguely sensible format.

        • Source code (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mangu (126918) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:29PM (#33370326)

          #include <time.h>
          #include <stdlib.h>
          #include <stdio.h>

          #define kase(tipo,stmt) case(tipo):{stmt;break;}

          char *a[10] = {
          "in particular",
          "on the other hand",
          "in this regard",
          "as a resultant implication",
          "based on integral subsystem considerations",
          "for example",
          "in respect to specific goals"},

          *b[10] = {
          "a large portion of the interface coordinated communication",
          "a constant flow of effective information",
          "the characterization of specific criteria",
          "initiation of critical subsystem development",
          "the fully integrated test program",
          "the product configuration baseline",
          "any associated supporting element",
          "the incorporation of additional mission constraints",
          "the independent functional principle",
          "a primary interrelationship between system and/or subsystem technologies"},

          *c[10] = {
          "must utilize and be functionally interwoven with",
          "maximizes the probability of project success and minimizes the cost and time required for",
          "adds explicit performance limits to",
          "necessitates that urgent consideration be applied to",
          "requires considerable systems analysis and trade off studies to arrive at",
          "is further compounded when taking into account",
          "presents extremely interesting challenges to",
          "recognizes the importance of other systems and the necessity for",
          "effects a significant implementation of",
          "adds overriding performance constraints to"},

          *d[10] = {
          "the sophisticated hardware",
          "the anticipated next generation equipment",
          "the subsystem compatibility testing",
          "the structural design based on system engineering concepts",
          "the preliminary qualification limits",
          "the evolution of specification over a given time period",
          "the philosophy of commonality and standardization",
          "the top-down development method",
          "any discrete configuration mode",
          "the total system rationale"}; /* orders: abcd, dacb, bacd, adcb */

          int n, order, w, x, y, z;

          for (n = 0; n < 1000; n++)
          if (!(n % 10)) printf("\n");
          w = rand() % 10;
          x = rand() % 10;
          y = rand() % 10;
          z = rand() % 10;
          order = rand() % 4;
          switch (order)
          case 0:
          printf(" %c%s, %s %s %s.", a[w][0] & 0xDF, a[w] + 1, b[x], c[y], d[z]);
          case 1:
          printf(" %c%s, %s, %s %s.", d[w][0] & 0xDF, d[w] + 1, a[x], c[y], b[z]);
          case 2:
          printf(" %c%s, %s, %s %s.", b[w][0] & 0xDF, b[w] + 1, a[x], c[y], d[z]);

        • by rwven (663186) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:17PM (#33371094)

          Yeah, I generally just ignore those weekly/daily/whatever status report calendar events. If they want to see what I'm doing, they can look at how empty my sprint story list is getting. I'm just utterly uninterested in wasting more time telling people what I'm doing when I already do in a daily standup meeting once per day. I can't stand management types that get all uptight about junk like this.

      • by wfstanle (1188751) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:54AM (#33369066)

        Perhaps the idea of the "seista" was right!

    • by hrvatska (790627) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:50AM (#33369772)
      I work from home these days, and I take one or two small lay down and doze naps each day. It makes a huge difference in my productivity and the quality of my work. I work in a very nap tolerant organization, and even when people are in the office management doesn't mind when people close their office doors to nap for a bit. Our management cares about real results, like whether you're meeting your commitments and that your clients are happy. This nap tolerant attitude may be the result of the organization consisting of older, experienced developers, architects and managers who have worked with each other for ten or more years, and trust that when you say something is going to be done by a specific date it will be completed and really ready for integration testing by that date.
    • by rwven (663186) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:15PM (#33371066)

      I solve a lot of work & other problems when I'm driving on the way to or from work. I spend about 2 hrs in the car per day... It's amazing when your brain isn't "busy," how many solutions just "spontaneously" come to you.

  • by Defenestrar (1773808) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @09:59AM (#33368356)

    This is the very reason I don't have a cell phone* and haven't used an instant messenger in years. It is also the same reason that I only check personal email at most once a day (They call it mail for a reason). If I'm at home or the office than the land line works very well - if I'm not there than I'm busy anyway.

    *People ask how can you manage that - I tell them it's a little secret called forethought or planning.

    • by PocariSweat1991 (1651929) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:05AM (#33368424)

      This is the very reason I don't have a cell phone

      I met a gentleman last night who recently purchased a Droid phone and claimed that it's the first mobile phone that he's ever owned. When I asked him why he didn't own one before, he responded:

      "I thought cell phones were only useful for buying drugs."

      I think he also has a 5-digit slashdot user id

    • by halfaperson (1885704) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:07AM (#33368452) Homepage

      *People ask how can you manage that - I tell them it's a little secret called forethought or planning.

      I usually tell them it's a little secret called "no friends".

    • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:25AM (#33368662)

      I've got a cell phone but I only give the number to people I actually want to hear from.
      All the pros, none of the cons.

    • by maxwell demon (590494) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:30AM (#33368708) Journal

      This is the very reason I don't have a cell phone

      You know, cell phones have a very useful functionality: You can switch them off. The advantage of a switched-off cell phone vs. no cell phone is that you can quickly get a working cell phone in case you need one: Just switch it on. Moreover, you get great times between battery recharges this way.

      • by element-o.p. (939033) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:13PM (#33370100) Homepage
        I use a slightly different mechanism: I turn the ringer to silent, and don't empty my voice mail. If I see you've called *and* I actually want to talk to you, I'll call you back.

        The problem is, I loathe telephones. Typically, when the phone rings, it's because someone expects me to drop whatever I'm doing RIGHT NOW and attend to whatever it is they need. Worse, when I'm talking to people on the telephone, they tend to feel slighted if I don't give them my full and undivided attention. So if I'm at work trying to, you know, work, and my phone rings, the expectation is that I will immediately cease work to chat/be a chimney while they vent/solve the world's problems/whatever. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon, but I find that rather irritating.

        I much prefer text messages or e-mail, since I can look at it and get back to you when I actually have the CPU cycles to devote to whatever it is you need.
    • by somersault (912633) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:34AM (#33368770) Homepage Journal

      I generally agree with your sentiment of planning ahead, and often leave my phone behind if I've already pre-arranged plans with people, but how are phones any better than IM or email in terms of distraction?

      You can't really defer a phone call without then getting into voice mail territory, which is way more annoying (and time consuming) than just reading an email. And a proper phone conversation requires input from two people simultaneously, rather than one person being able to go and do some work while the other person thinks and types up a response.

    • by mea37 (1201159) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:46AM (#33369686)

      How nice for you that you've found it comfortable to get by without a cell phone. It's too bad you feel the need to condescend to those who find cell phones useful. (Actually, it suggests you're probably compensating for the fact that you really aren't as happy with your choice as you'd like others to believe; but I digress.)

      I plan ahead, and then I carry a cell phone in case reality interferes with my plans. This also allows me to quickly change my plans if an opportunity arises.

      But then, some people don't value flexibility and are willing to accept any inconvenience resulting from a plan breaking down; if you're one of those, good for you.

      • by Defenestrar (1773808) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:10PM (#33370996)

        I never mentioned anything about people who generally use cell phones. I'm sorry if it was taken otherwise. My "flame bait" footnote is actually only directed toward the subset of people who find it absolutely inconceivable that anyone could successfully manage one's life without a cell phone. I've been attacked by that type of person as if I had suggested something absurd such as not immunizing children. It was not my attempt (or in my text) to disparage the usefulness of cell phones. I had one for a while, but I got rid of it based on cost/usefulness for my lifestyle.

        Flexibility in communication is valuable, but it does have a certain cost - typically $500 to $1000 a year (and a contract), although there are sometimes lower cost options for maybe $100 to $300 a year depending on what type of prepaid contract is offered in one's area.

        Flexibility can also be built into plans. For example if my friend(s) are late to the restaurant I can go in so as to not lose our reservation. After say five to fifteen minutes I can ask to borrow the restaurant's phone to call the friend. If no answer I can decide (with the people with me if there are others) to order appetizers and wait longer, order the whole meal (possibly something for the missing friend), or tip the waiter and let someone waiting actually have the table so they can eat. It's possible that we all know where to go after dinner too. I have found that plans can break down with and without portable communication. There is also the fact that under-planned events (I'll meet you at the fair vs. I'll meet you by the long haired rabbits) can break down because someone forgets a phone, the battery dies, or the signal is wacky.

        You also lose the middle range of spontaneity if you don't have a cell phone. If you are in the neighborhood you would have to find a pay phone first before being able to call a friend to drop in or meet at a local coffee shop. You can still go for the bigger option of ringing the doorbell (possibly already having acquired two coffees). Again - you can have that range back for about $500 to $1000 a year.

        Managing life without a portable phone is perfectly reasonable for many people (not so reasonable for the traveling repairman). It can take a little more thorough planning and a little more flexibility if plans go wrong (contingencies - planned and spontaneous), security in one's ability to deal with problems that come up (hyperbole: walk in a straight line, living off the land, until you hit the ocean, then follow the coast until you hit a town with a phone), and enough confidence (in yourself and your relationships) that you don't feel the compulsion for instantly available communication. Having a cell phone doesn't mean you don't have any or all of the above routinely going for you, but people who don't believe that it's possible cope without a cell phone seem to do so out of a deficiency of one of the above.

    • by Mister Whirly (964219) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:40PM (#33370504) Homepage
      I like to be able to be flexible in my planning so that if something changes last minute that I planned hours ago, I want to know about it before I waste my time trying to meet someone who isn't there. The "distraction" of having a cell phone, and looking at it for a minute, could save me many more minutes of wasted time.

      I remember a time when I lived kind of like you try to. It was called the 1980s - land lines only, had to find a pay phone if not at home. No email, Facebook, Google Calendar, Instant Messaging, text messaging, etc. at all. Planning things sucked back then compared to now, I wouldn't want to take a giant step backwards.
    • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:45PM (#33370592)

      I don't have a cell phone either. It's not called a "cell" because it's short for "cellular"...

      I've got a packed social schedule, two kids, and I do on-site inspections fairly often at work. (I'm an EE.) They just aren't necessary tools.

    • by mmaniaci (1200061) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:58PM (#33370804)
      Be sure to wave to the rest of us as the the world passes you by.

      Communication is incredibly important to Humanity, and the more we have the more informed the common man is (huzzah). Having a cellphone doesn't mean you have to play Faceville on it the moment your day becomes idle.
  • tl;dr (Score:5, Funny)

    by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:00AM (#33368358) Homepage

    NPR had a long thing on this the other day. Supposedly it kills our attention span. Or something, tl;dl.

  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by The MAZZTer (911996) <> on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:02AM (#33368376) Homepage
    Did Slashdot just advise us to cut back on Slashdot?
  • I'd be fine (Score:2, Funny)

    by ooji (1471967) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:03AM (#33368396)
    if it wasn't for [].
  • by txoof (553270) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:06AM (#33368430) Homepage

    I really value my exercise time for this 'down time.' I can't stand running with headphones because I can't get lost in the moment. Going out for a nice long run (or a walk) on Sunday morning when you have a problem to mull over is just about the greatest way to find some insight and a new angle on it. I've composed term papers and had some wonderful insights into my life and relationships while on runs.

    As I get older, I also find that I need to turn off more and more distractions if I really want to get anything serious done. I close the web browser, turn off the IM and silence the phone (I'd turn it off, but it takes so freaking long to reboot, it's obnoxious). I remember a time in my youth that I'd have 12 things going on at once, watching TV, playing video games and maybe even music running somewhere. I think I was being productive, but looking back, I question that. Perhaps my abilities to 'multi-task' have diminished as I've aged, but I think that I've just become more adept at recognizing shoddy work. What about you all? Have you fond that as you get older, you need more quite time to think than you did when you were younger? Do little distractions like email and IMs really cut into your productivity?

    • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:03AM (#33369216) Homepage

      I can't stand running with headphones because I can't get lost in the moment.

      Plus, then you can hear cars and cyclists coming.

      I can't tell you how many times I've had to skirt around an idiot running or cycling on a dual-use path with their music jacked high enough they can't hear my bell...

    • by bemymonkey (1244086) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:20AM (#33369398)

      I've had exactly the same experience. Used to work with music or TV shows running, now I can't concentrate with the slightest bit of noise.

    • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:26AM (#33369442) Journal

      I really value my exercise time for this 'down time.' I can't stand running with headphones because I can't get lost in the moment.

      I listen to my iPod while lifting weights & also watch headline news on TV doing the elliptical. I find it helps me to keep up my pace and also makes the time go by faster, and sometimes power through the pain.

      As I get older, I also find that I need to turn off more and more distractions if I really want to get anything serious done.

      I'm totally with you on that one. These days during my lunch, I work on improving my computer programming skills. I go some place isolated, having only the laptop. I leave my phone at my desk, I don't surf the web or check my e-mail. I learn more during that hour than I usually do with 8 hours of work, due to constant phone calls, e-mail, etc. I think for home I need to get a good pair of noise canceling headphones.

    • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:28AM (#33369474) Homepage Journal

      Have you fond that as you get older, you need more quite time to think than you did when you were younger? Do little distractions like email and IMs really cut into your productivity?

      I'm 24 now. As I've grown out of my college years I've noticed this to be true. I can turn out more stuff (poetry, blog updates, electronic gizmos, whatever I'm working on) if I keep the instant messengers closed. I also like to have my door closed because my roomate has a bad habit of popping into my room to show me "the funniest thing ever" on Youtube which is usually a 10 second clip of someone injuring themselves. I don't really have the problem with music though. However, I do make a point to tune my internet radio station to a type of music that would make an appropriate soundtrack for whatever I am working on (for instance, if I am writing up a short story about a swordfight, the music would be some kind of kick-ass symphonic metal, or something similar). I do notice, however, that as I get older I have more of a tendency to turn on music and just stare at a wall while sipping a nice glass of whiskey. I used to always just think of music as appropriate background noise. These days I treat it almost like T.V., where I want to take the time to get lost in it.

      • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:17PM (#33370144)

        I sit out on my balcony a couple of nights a week with a fine single malt and a fine cigar and just watch the world go past. When I was telling one of my friends he was amazed that I could sit for so long without doing anything. I can't understand how he's so constantly doing things.

        • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:01PM (#33373074) Homepage Journal

          When I was telling one of my friends he was amazed that I could sit for so long without doing anything. I can't understand how he's so constantly doing things.

          He might be distracting himself from the reality of his own thoughts. If you tend to have an overly self-critical personality, or if you are generally unhappy about your present life situation, then sitting and doing nothing can afford you the opportunity to face the unpleasant thoughts that can come with such territory. Similarly, if your friend feels lonely, sitting around alone would afford him the opportunity to ponder his situation, which he may not want to do. I know I've had periods in my life where I had to keep myself distracted in order to avoid facing the pains that come along with heartbreak, a loss of a friend, etc. Watching the world go by, as you describe, tends to let reality settle in on one's self-awareness. That can be a hard thing to cope with.

          Alternatively, your friend might just be the kind of person that values action above thought. There's nothing wrong with that, and I would wager that constantly doing things helps to fulfill your friend in ways nobody but himself understands. Ah well, to each their own.

    • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:30AM (#33369496) Homepage Journal
      "I really value my exercise time for this 'down time.' I can't stand running with headphones because I can't get lost in the moment. "

      I'm the opposite...I find that I really LOVE tunes when exercising, both with weights and aerobic (mostly walk/running). I find that it distracts me from the 'pain' aspect, and especially the boring monotonous part of walking/running. I love slinging weights, but do not enjoy the aerobic stuff, but to is a very necessary evil.

      Especially in my past...when doing things like studying for finals, etc, I found that if I was in a completely silent room, my mind would wander, and I'd find myself soon doing things ranging from cleaning the apt (never cleaner than during finals) learning to juggle oranges.

      However, if I had the tv on in the background, or threw on a bunch of CD's on the changer...I'd hum along tap my pen...etc, while I could study and concentrate. I'd find often after awhile, I'd played through all the CD's...and not realized or remembered much of what was going on. Strange.

      I find I'm the same way when trying to sleep....if it is pitch black, and silent, I have a hard time shutting off my brain to go to sleep. So, I always set my TV on the timer, and at a fairly low volume where I can barely hear it...and drift off to sleep, and it turns itself off when I crash.

      I've always been this way...only recently is there a major exception, and that is at work...I find that often when in a tense situation, needing research and troubleshooting, I can't don the headphones usually, but like you mentioned, maybe that is age?

    • by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:15PM (#33370116)
      IMs used to, but I've stopped responding to most emails/IMs long ago.

      Instead, I get distracted by youtube/short videogames.

      On the other hand, once I get ramped up and there's some amount of white noise (music, tv, etc) in the background, it's hard to get distracted by anything until whatever I'm working on is done.
    • by Reziac (43301) * on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @12:26PM (#33370280) Homepage Journal

      There was a study a while back (discussed here, too) which determined that kids NEED downtime to assimilate what they've learned -- so that "time wasted" digging in the dirt, watching ants, gazing at clouds, and generally doing nothing useful, is actually the most important part of a kid's day in terms of how well that child will assimilate what he's learned in school.

      I doubt it's really all that different for adults. We used to have our downtime in fairly mindless pursuits -- whether that was weeding or running or watching drivel like Baywatch. Why was that drivel the most popular show of its era? Because it didn't demand *anything* of the viewer (not even close attention, since it was the same basic formula every week), thus provided necessary DOWNTIME for tired corporate brains.

      But now we fill that adult downtime with bursts of activity, all of which demand SOME attention from our brains. And we fill kids' lives with Stuff until they've not a moment left to just be kids doing "useless" kid things.

      And then we wonder why we've become Short Attention Span World.

      I would hazard that an average child's "inability to sit still" in school is inversely proprotional to how much downtime he gets. If that downtime is lacking, the squirmy kid brain tries to find it, by attempting escape from the constrained situation. I say this having thought back to when I was in grade school -- squirmy was NOT the norm, we were all pretty well behaved and paid attention in class. BUT -- 40 years ago, outside of school, we were just KIDS. No demands were made of our time, and we didn't have the plethora of "after-school activities" and online social obligations that kids do today. We had DOWNTIME, which I contend in turn allowed us to RELAX when we had to be in a structured learning situation (ie. regular public school).

      Now get off my lawn!

  • More than that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bsDaemon (87307) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:15AM (#33368536)

    I read the article on the New York Times yesterday, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately in general, and I've come across some pretty interesting stuff. For instance, its pretty obvious that computers give off a lot of blue light. Apparently someone decided that blue LEDs meant high tech and so devices get fitted with them all over the place. Blue light in particular is linked to suppression of melatonin(source: []). Particularly low levels of melatonin have been observed in patients with various degrees of ASD, including slashdot's favourite asperger's (source: []).

    So, my contention is that the "rise in autism" that seems to be so prevalent these days is probably a result of children basically being deprived of proper darkness, being surrounded by light from computers, tv, video games, etc. I've started taking melatonin supplements as since I got back into IT work about two years ago and spending much more time on computers, I've been sleeping a lot less and feeling generally less sociable. My memory has gotten shot, etc. Could just be that I'm getting older, but I'm only 26... I'm not that old. When I get a break away from computers, take some time out to sleep, and get outside in the woods then I can generally shake the effects off in a day or so, but when I was a kid the world wasn't nearly as surrounded by computer technology in all its myriad of forms as it is today, where kids are basically handed a DS right out of the womb. I didn't see a gameboy until I was about 7 or 8, and it had a monochrome screen with no backlight.

    And no, I don't mean a break from work. I mean a break from computers. It's not just being at work -- when I'm at work, its light outside anyway. I mean no laptop, no fancy phone, no nothing. Go away for a few days and leave that stuff behind, because if I'm just at home on the weekend and spend a lot of time plugged up, then I don't feel any better for not having been at work.

    The way kids are today, with all their gadgets and gizmos can't possibly be any better for their brains than it is for their bodies, not playing outside nearly as much as they used to.

    Stories like this match up pretty well with my own anecdotal evidence, not that it means much, but when I find NIH studies that seem to point to much more extreme versions of what I've seen, even in myself. Like I said, the effects on an adult are likely to be temporary, but our brains had time to mature before being mushed up.

    • Re:More than that (Score:2, Insightful)

      by OffaMyLawn (1885682) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:43AM (#33368928)

      Maybe that is why my work gave me this nice laptop with all the blue LEDs on the touch bar...

      On a more serious note though, I do have to agree with you. I spent a week on the beach in OBX with the family, didn't take my laptop, had my phone with me but left it in the house we rented, just kicked back and listened to the ocean with a beer in my hand. I felt a million times better after that, so I definitely agree that it's a good idea to just get away from technology completely ever so often.

      Sometimes even small breaks can help, like taking the kids to the pool for the day, going out and flying kites, or anything else just to get out of the house and away from the noise.

    • by blair1q (305137) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:47PM (#33371558) Journal

      Well, first, the Autism curve started pitching up in the early 80s, and blue LEDs weren't invented until the late 90s.

      Second, Autism presents symptoms in infancy, before the typical child has been hypnotized by Xbox.

      Third, simple social ineptitude due to inexperience is not the same thing as Autism. Social retardation can be repaired fairly easily. Autism is notoriously hard to work against.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:27AM (#33368684) Homepage

    It is not like before "digital devices" people would sit around doing nothing for "downtime".. Before pocket toys that look for our attention people had a list of tasks they had to do. Instead of wasting time sitting there playing plants-vs-zombies they read a book or talked.

    My downtime is usually under a car or elbow deep in a motorcycle doing high level brain activity compared to what any digital device causes.

    This is all bull-cockey. If anything the digital devices are making people stupid because they dont have to actually work for or retain any knowlege.. they certianly are not causing us to lose downtime, as humans by nature dont do brain downtime. Hell when we sleep we dont even have brain downtime.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:00AM (#33369190) Homepage

      It is not like before "digital devices" people would sit around doing nothing for "downtime"

      I'm not so sure. I know someone who isn't so big on technology and doesn't need it in his life (sometimes I admire him the simplicity that affords him).

      Apparently, he's perfectly content to just sit quietly on his sofa for periods of time. No music, no TV, not even sure he's having any "inner dialog" -- I think he literally is content to just sit.

      I've been known to sit on a rock for an hour or two, but that was usually taking in the sights around me and just actively sitting there with no more action than need be.

      I think back in the day when people had far fewer distractions, more than a few of them probably occupied some time doing what we would essentially call 'nothing' since it didn't involve an activity or another person.

      Hell when we sleep we dont even have brain downtime.

      Well, I don't think they don't mean "zero activity", they mean that it's restful and will help 'recharge' somewhat.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:04AM (#33369234)

      They're not talking about the couple hours at the end of the day where people do their hobbies and relax, they're talking about the minute here, minute there kind of downtime throughout the day. They're talking about leaning back in your chair and stretching out for a few minutes, waiting to hear back on a question you asked your co-worker, or just sitting on the damn toilet (we all know people who can't help but get out their phones while they're taking a crap).

    • by turkeyfish (950384) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:28AM (#33369470)

      "as humans by nature dont do brain downtime."

      Funny you should say that, which leads to the obvious question, why is sleep a universal human behavior? According to you, humans don't sleep, but even limited observation suggests otherwise.

      • by Belial6 (794905) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:42AM (#33369652)
        Did you really not read his whole post before responding? I mean, you can disagree with him if you want, but you don't do much for your argument when you say:

        According to you, humans don't sleep, but even limited observation suggests otherwise.

        after he says:

        Hell when we sleep we dont even have brain downtime.

        It's not like he wrote pages of stuff for you to sift through to get to that part.

    • by Belial6 (794905) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:48AM (#33369736)
      Most books are digital devices. It just uses a base 28 or something close to it. While in day to day life, I wouldn't go out of my way to point this out to people, in this case, we are talking about the affects of digital devices, and my suspicion is that the people who conducted this 'study' don't really understand what they are saying.
    • by mmaniaci (1200061) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:30PM (#33371306)

      If anything the digital devices are making people stupid because they dont have to actually work for or retain any knowlege (sic)

      Remembering things does not mean you are smart, or even non-stupid. Memorization does not imply adept thinking skills and, IMO (no science done here), I think that the way we're moving will make us much smarter in general, just in a different way than we're used to. Perhaps offloading some forms of memory to computers is allowing us to concentrate on actual thinking. Maybe our education will eventually evolve and our kids wouldn't have to waste 14 years of their life (K-12) memorizing and regurgitating government-regulated information that can just be referenced, and originally was memorized from, a book or online source. I for one didn't learn how to learn from school, I learned how to memorize exactly what I needed to know to get a B or better on the next test.

      I would go so far and say that we don't even have to teach anything in the "memorize-regurgitate" fashion for our youth to grow into adequate thinking machines. Teaching kids how to learn what they need to know on their own seems a lot more lucrative and efficient to me, but I'm also the kind of guy that can teach himself whatever he wants to know (read as: I know how to google). Unfortunately, a thinking majority might not bode well for the elite class that require a population of plebs to continue their way of life, and we all know who makes the rules around here...

  • Eh (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jethro (14165) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:37AM (#33368812) Homepage

    I heard an interview with the guy who wrote that book on NPR yesterday. Practically every sentence he spoke contained a "Maybe" or a "We don't know for sure" or an "It's possible that..."

    His entire interview was preceded by him saying this is all theories and may not be correct at all and that there's actually no scientific proof of any of this.

    So, grain of salt.

  • by iknowcss (937215) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:37AM (#33368814) Homepage
    I think a study should be done that correlates smartphone ownership with time spent per bathroom break. I think you all know why.
  • by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:40AM (#33368870) Homepage Journal

    Any device -- no, any activity -- that continuously takes up your attention is going to have the exact same effect. It's not like the brain subconsciously detects, "Hey, these inputs have discrete steps which I'm able to perceive thanks to my gold-plated Monster cables," and then the person goes nuts.

    Quit saying "digital device" when you mean "any thing", quit saying iPhone when you mean any mobile computer, quit saying "digital music" when you mean any music that is downloaded instead of distributed on removable media, etc. You think you're being cutting edge and hip, but really, almost everyone can see your bullshit.

  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:42AM (#33368902) Homepage

    Gadgets force us to communicate in sound bites. We dig the new shiny. Our attentions no longer span, but spin. Subtle phrasing replaced by clever phrasing replaced by catch phrases. "Think" is a four-letter word. Four letter words are old school. Grammar mocked as elitist. Push2Talk is DoubleSpeak. Allusions wander, lost. News at 11.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:44AM (#33368948)
    Several high-power professor types go "off the grid" on a backcountry rafting rafting trip. [] Initially there was some anxiety about being incommunicato, but it fades quickly.

    I notice the same. I think about work the first day of a backcountry trip or vacation. But then stop thinking about work by the second day.
  • by wfstanle (1188751) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:52AM (#33369042)

    When I have a really vexing programming problem, I often think of a real creative way to solve it in the moments in bed waiting to fall asleep. The ideas do not occur while I am asleep but when I am fully awake waiting to fall asleep. I am quite sure that the time when nothing is happening is very important to the creative process. Other people might be different but I find this is true for me.

  • by viralMeme (1461143) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:24AM (#33369430)
    Didn't that used to be called sleep ..
  • by Picass0 (147474) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:33AM (#33369530) Homepage Journal

    Television gives us so much and asks so little in return. Why must you be so tempted by hours of web surfing?

    Just turn off you brain and give TV your whole day. There's probably a Deadliest Catch marathon you could be watching.

  • by MpVpRb (1423381) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:37AM (#33369582)
    I frequently disconnect, unplug and become unreachable for some time each day.

panic: kernel trap (ignored)