Debug Your Brain
Stay connected without powering down your productivity

October 14, 2012

Stay connected without powering down your productivity

Adults spend about eight and a half hours a day on the Internet, watching videos, or using mobile gadgets, according to estimates from eMarketer. “The problem is that we get glued to our devices and forget we have a life offline,” says Dr Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at UCLA. Don’t let technology rule your life. Here’s how to know if it’s gone too far.

THE PROBLEM Chronic multitasking

You multitask to accomplish more in less time, right? Yet an experiment at Stanford University revealed that heavy media multitaskers were less efficient than people who multitasked less often. They also had difficulty ignoring irrelevant information. “We become faster but also sloppier,” Dr Small says. Research also suggests that chronic stress from multitasking can make your brain’s memory center more vulnerable to damage.


Don’t snap a photo of every meal, or tweet about that concert while it’s happening. “Consider enjoying a seminal experience fully before posting about it,” says Daniel Sieberg, author of The Digital Diet (R118, “There’s always time to update your social network, but life is worth living in the moment first.” Dr Small suggests designating email time in the morning so you don’t sweat it all day.

THE PROBLEM Diminished social skills

The tech-addled brain “drifts away from fundamental social skills, such as reading facial expressions during conversation or grasping the emotional context of a subtle gesture,” DrSmall writes in his book iBrain (R149,


In iBrain, Dr Small advises creating a quiet environment, even if it’s only temporary, to ease anxiety. That may mean silencing gadgets, disabling alerts and alarms, or instituting a no-phone zone. “No charging the smartphone in the bedroom,” Sieberg says. “Keep the room a sanctuary and you might even aid intimacy.”

THE PROBLEM “Techno-brain burnout”

People who work online for several hours nonstop report feeling spaced-out, fatigued, irritable, and distracted. Dr Small calls this digital fog “techno-brain burnout.” It causes your brain to alert your adrenal glands to secrete the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, this process can impair cognition and alter the neural circuitry in brain regions that control thought and mood.

THE SOLUTION Fall asleep

In an experiment at Harvard, Dr Sara Mednick and her colleagues were able to reduce the negative impact of techno-brain burnout in volunteers by adding variety to mental tasks and by introducing strategic power naps – a reminder that “sleep mode” has advantages for human beings too.