Can you read this column through?

Recent research suggests you might check your e-mail for a squirt of dopamine instead.

Julian Switala

As a freshman, I regularly ate breakfast at Centennial Hall. In the dining hall I would witness students who were preoccupied by a laptop, MP3 player and cell phone, despite being surrounded by friends. It required obnoxiously loud screams and boisterous hand gestures to rouse them from their technological stupor. Even after catching their attention, they were unwilling to communicate and quickly returned to the digital domain.
This experience is a manifestation of âÄúthe screen invasion,âÄù a term coined by Matt Richtel, a technology reporter for The New York Times. The term describes the ubiquity of technological gadgets constantly inundating us with information. Significantly, our constant use of technology is influencing us in unforeseen ways. Current research is uncovering both its cognitive and behavioral effects.
Technology has effectively become a necessity for anyone who wishes to survive in contemporary society and it certainly does have its benefits. But does it make us more productive? Sure it can âÄî if youâÄôre careful.
According to a 2009 Stanford University study, truly productive multitasking is far more challenging than previously thought. The problem, says the study, is that âÄúprocessing multiple incoming streams of information is considered a challenge for human cognition.âÄù This is because the more one multitasks, the more difficult it becomes to filter out irrelevant information.
With our cell phones, iPods, laptops, video games, Kindles âÄî the various mediums of entertainment and communication âÄî researchers at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in Paris, France have found that we may not be able to effectively multitask at more than two tasks.
Our technological devices insidiously persuade us that we effectively multitask. TheyâÄôve made it incredibly easy for us to procrastinate since they follow us everywhere. As we get bored of one task, we can effortlessly move on to another. Rather than complete one task at a time, we choose to suspend our work by temporarily focusing on a relatively easy task, like answering an e-mail or text message.
Yet multitasking is only the tip of this microchip iceberg. The effects are even more drastic. A 2008 study from the University of California found that acute stress, which is experienced when interrupted by oneâÄôs gadgets, results in the release of corticotropin, a stress hormone that severely impedes our ability to learn and form memories.
This finding is magnified by our desire to constantly check our digital devices. As Richtel states, when you check your gadget, âÄúyou get what [scientists] call a dopamine squirt.âÄù
âÄúYou get a little rush of adrenaline. So youâÄôre getting that more and more and more and more,âÄù he told NPR. âÄúWell, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. YouâÄôre actually conditioned by a kind of neurochemical response.âÄù
The reality is that technology in our life is inevitable. However, rather than completely disconnecting, we should be creating downtime that allows us to relax and not think about the buzz in our pocket or the e-mail in our inbox. Perhaps itâÄôs as simple as sitting down and enjoying your breakfast without any distractions.    

Julian Switala welcomes comments
at [email protected]