The Dangers of Multitasking
Ominously, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — suppressed for years and released on Tuesday after petitions were filed by advocacy groups — shows that there are “negligible differences” in accident risk whether you’re holding the phone or not. Hands-free devices may even enhance the danger by lulling you into complacency.
It is the conversation that pulls focus. My greatest fear is that I’m going to be in a taxi when the driver gets a call from his wife to tell him that she’s run off with his sexy cousin.
Scientists are grappling, too, with perhaps the broadest question hanging over the phenomenon of distracted driving: Why do people, knowing the risk, continue to talk while driving? The answer, they say, is partly the intense social pressures to stay in touch and always be available to friends and colleagues. And there also is the neurological response of multitaskers. They show signs of addiction — to their gadgets.
John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and a specialist on the science of attention, explained that when people use digital devices, they get a quick burst of adrenaline, “a dopamine squirt.” Without it, people grow bored with simpler activities like driving. Mr. Ratey said the modern brain is being rewired to crave stimulation, a condition he calls acquired attention deficit disorder.
“We need that constant pizzazz, the reward, the intensity,” he said. He largely dismisses the argument that people need the time in the car to be productive. “The justification for doing work is just that — a justification to be engaged,” he said.
There is some truth that taking a break from technology, from computer to kindle to phone to radio, can be very comforting and rejuvenating. I try to take a break at least once a week.
I am positive that the sheer volume and accessibility of information is cause as much for anxiety as it is a source of good.
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