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Pay Attention! Constant Online Activity Messes up Long-Term Memory

Speaking of technology and attention, here's a great video via Lifehacker on how we learn and how the constant stream of new stimuli from our computers and phones undermines our learning:

When you let new items—e-mails, Tweets, texts, new Webpages flashing by with each hyperlink you click—keep pinging your short-term memory, you keep the thing you were just thinking about (what was that again?) from moving from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. In other words, if you try to pay attention to every little thing, you won't learn any big things. You'll think like a computer—no permanent learning, just constantly moving data and following commands—or like a Borg drone.

Naturally, I'd love it if you'd share this post with all your Facebook and Twitter friends. But I'll understand if you don't, and if you choose instead to read a good long book.


  1. MC 2013.05.10

    Does that mean we can talk about you when you are 'unplugged' from this blog?

  2. grudznick 2013.05.10

    kurtz has assimilated you, Mr. H.

  3. Douglas Wiken 2013.05.10

    I just started a search for tinfoil hats. I have been surprised that they do not appear to be on sale at TEA Party sites.

    Weather here may be taking a nasty storm turn. Back later.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.10

    MC, yes, but when I check the comment section, I'll give you what-for.

    Douglas! Pay attention to that weather!

  5. Stan Gibilisco 2013.05.11

    On Friday last (May 10), the Computer Guys on South Dakota Public Broadcasting's "TechRadio" show discussed how online education affects the way teachers do their thing.

    A lot.

    It almost seemed as if, in the not too distant future, teachers might no longer be needed at all. Not human ones, anyway.

    As usual, the Computer Guys talked up all the good things that technology is doing and has done for education, and for the way we live our lives in general.

    But do we really want our kids to be taught by virtual robotic machines, as seems to be the end point of all this business?

    Cory, are you and I evolving into dinosaurs? Should we call that progress?

    On the upside, my publisher has recently expressed an interest in hiring me to make videos for at least one of their existing books ... as I learn how to manipulate graphics and talk into a microphone at the same time.

    Cool stuff!

    And all this can be arranged over the Internet and to some extent over the telephone.

    The two editors with whom I'm working on this, McGraw-Hill veterans, seem to get along quite well with me. I guess I'm a real pussycat (except when I'm not), so that helps.

    One of them says that a particular book of mine, now in print (yeah, print) for 20 years, is her highest grossing book. That little bonus probably helps a bit too.

    But I have never met either one of these people in person despite having worked with them for years.

    And might never.

    Might never sit down with them in a New York cafe amidst all the real (as opposed to virtual) life, grit, and grime, and eat real oysters at a real table and look at real faces three feet away and listen to real live music played by slightly disheveled local guys and gals on a real stage and smell the various and sundry broiled and fried and scorched foods and hear and see real car horns honking outside a real window spattered with the water hardness from a recent shower.

    Nooooo ... We need none of that.

    We have the Web, the Cloud, the Virtual Utopia!


    Now what did I just say? I forget.

    Nobody cares anyhow.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.12

    Stan, we don't evolve into dinosaurs. An asteroid hits, the environment changes faster than we can adapt, and we become fossils.

    Your publishing success—top seller, and now multimedia? video books? next stop, book super-stardom!—shows you are adapting well enough. Sure, as you use technology to sustain your writing career, you miss out on that gritty, grimy, have-another-sarsaparilla interaction with your editors. But your use of technology opens employment opportunities that you would not have at all in your current location without the Internet. You sacrifice that workplace interaction for the pleasure of doing your work, then stepping out your office door to the sight of the Black Hills (and sometimes three feet of snow in your driveway). Is working online a straight loss, or a reasonable trade-off?

    Work is important, but so is the other two thirds of our lives. Perhaps shifting more work online will help us draw lines between our work lives and our family and community life... although maybe our community engagement suffers a bit when we spend our workday engaging pixels.

  7. MC 2013.05.12

    Did Stan Say something? Not that I really cared anyway ;)

    I was engaged in watching Conservative Boy and Liberal Girl on their latest misadventure.

    Cory is right on this point. It is good for us, as humans, to disconnect from the grid for time. Mow the lawn, do some gardening. feed your chickens in the back yard. Spend some time with your family, face to face.

    Remember, a bad day of fishing beats a good day at work any time.

  8. Stan Gibilisco 2013.05.12

    Oops, I did not mean to dis the Internet totally. Overall its effect on my career has been hugely positive.

    I can always take a New York vacation. No one is stopping me, except me!

    If I'm on my way to publishing super-stardom, my income trends in recent years sure don't reflect it.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.05.13

    The lawn! I knew I'd forgotten something. ;-)

    True, Stan: you are an hour's drive from an airport that can take you to New York for some three-martini lunches with your editors. Who knows: maybe seeing them just every now and then would solidify your relationship in a way that would be undermined if you all had to put up with each other every day in an office or even in weekly in-person meetings, in good moods and bad.

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