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Can email make you stupid?

For years, I've been complaining about my rapidly declining attention span. After reading a New York Times Magazine story last December, I thought it might be simple, age-related mental decay. But thanks to The Guardian, I can now blame another culprit: email.

The distractions of constant emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis, according to a survey of befuddled volunteers.

Doziness, lethargy and an increasing inability to focus reached "startling" levels in the trials by 1,100 people, who also demonstrated that emails in particular have an addictive, drug-like grip...

UPDATE: This "study" is based on very sketchy research and appears to be part of a publicity campaign by Hewlett Packard. Thanks to the Daily Heights for setting us straight.

UPDATE: Although I'm embarrassed to have been taken in by HP's press release, the underlying problem it describes is real, at least for yours truly. So I'm sticking by the regimen I wrote about earlier (below).

Granted, I blamed my internet use even before I knew these pointy heads could back me up. Booting up in the morning is my caffeine. My heartbeat quickens, my muscles tense when I go online. It takes about 20-30 minutes to root through my email; after that, I sit in front of the computer for up to 12 hours impulsively alternating between email, RSS feeds, the web, and design software. Like many people, I juggle tasks, and inbetween jugglings I check my email -- sometimes as often as once a minute. Usually, there is no rational reason to do this; I'm not expecting anything particularly important. Rather, I'm like the mice in those psychology experiments who robotically push the lever that they associate with a treat (long after their appetites are sated).

I used to get up in the morning, read, meditate (or something resembling meditation), and write for a couple of hours before going online. But in the past year or two, I haven't had the patience. From this day forth, however, I'm turning over a new leaf. I didn't make any New Year's resolutions this year so here are my resolutions four months late. From now on:

  • I'll spend at least an hour in the morning reading or writing offline.
  • After initially checking email, I'll close my email client and open it only every two hours
  • Except in unusual circumstances (this one will be esp. tough when I'm on deadline), the computer will go off no later than 11:15 p.m.

...and that's probably enough reform for now. I'll let you know how it goes.

Posted by carrie on 04/25/2005 | Permalink


This guy says the "study" is probably just PR for Hewlett-Packard:

"Firstly, it is difficult to determine exactly what the findings were, as the report on which the news stories are based seems unavailable, and therefore probably not peer-reviewed."

"The original Hewlett-Packard press-release references it as Research completed in March 2005 by TNS. The identity of TNS is not clear, but perhaps it is TNS Market Research, a marketing company."

"Certainly, the original press release ends by promoting an HP efficiency product, suggesting this may be part of a wider promotion, and more marketing campaign than serious science."

Posted by: | Apr 26, 2005 12:38:15 AM

sure, blame me for your problems.

Posted by: internet | Apr 27, 2005 1:25:47 PM

If email makes you stupid, can you imagine what Instant Messaging and text messaging is doing...?

Posted by: Skip | Apr 28, 2005 12:00:04 PM

Yes e-mail is bad for your concentration.

But caffeine DOES make you stupid.

Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor - and restricts blood flow to the brain.

Since less blood is reaching your brain, less oxygen is reaching your brain cells.

Less oxygen to the brain means your brain cells are restricted in their functioning. They simply can't work as hard, they must work slower. But the caffeine impact the neurochemical receptors in your brain making you hyper.

So, your brain gets hyper but has less oxygen to work with, and that just can't be good.

To get smarter - stop drinking caffeine altogether.

Once you get past withdrawl - a headache - your brains oxygen levels will return to normal.

Posted by: DrJustSayNo | Jul 30, 2005 3:19:37 PM

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