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Digital addiction [Cihan News Agency (Turkey)]
[December 26, 2012]

Digital addiction [Cihan News Agency (Turkey)]

(Cihan News Agency (Turkey) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- It is the end of the year, so time to make New Year's resolutions. I am sure many readers of this column will shortly promise themselves or their partners to eat less, do more physical exercises or spend more time with the children.

I wonder how many of you are planning to limit time spent on the Internet or to leave aside your smart phone more often. Let me try to explain why I think this would be a good intention.

Before doing so, let me make it perfectly clear that I am a happy and frequent user of all kinds of digital gadgets that make life easier, especially if you need to communicate quickly or have easy access to information. I love my user-friendly Mac, I enjoy reading Dutch and American newspapers on my iPad and I always have my iPhone within reach. I am an active user of Twitter and I hate it when I miss out on too many messages because there is no functioning wireless network at a conference or in a hotel.

Having said that, I realized over the last couple of months how difficult it is to write a book while online all the time. For me, reading my tweets and mails every hour or regularly checking some websites made it very hard to concentrate on reading academic literature and producing my own texts. It turned out I was not as good at multitasking as I thought I was.

After I finished the book, I read an article by chance in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on an upcoming new report about the problematic side of social media and the rising popularity of the so-called Slow Tech movement. This is a growing group of technology designers and theorists pushing people to rethink how we approach technology. Instead of being obsessed with an overarching drive towards efficiency in our technology, Slow Tech thinkers advocate a more livable, mindful relationship between consumers and devices. It follows the slow food movement, which emphasizes the need to eat local, seasonal foods.

The article listed 10 dangers associated with heavy social media use and presented people who had decided to stop using Facebook to avoid these dangers. The dangers included the tendency of digital addicts to be focused constantly on their phones or others gadgets. By doing this for a long time, these people are in danger of losing the normal human capacity to have a regular conversation or show interest in someone else. They are always afraid of missing out on some important piece of online news, and this overdose of information causes stress, irritation or even digital dementia. Surfing from one link to the other 24 hours a day stimulates the short term memory but damages the part of our brain that we need for reflection and creativity.

In a speech in May, Joe Kraus, a partner at Google Ventures, summarized Slow Tech thinking and tried to find out what we can do to counter the bad effects of intensive Internet and social media use. I was happy to read that numerous brain-imaging studies have shown that the more you practice multitasking, the worse you get at it. The reason why that's the case, according to Kraus, is that when you practice distraction (which is what multitasking really is -- paying attention to something that distracted you from what you were originally paying attention to), you're training your brain to pay attention to distracting things. The more you train your brain to do so, the more you get distracted and the less able you are to even focus for brief periods of time on things like creative or contemplative thinking. Most people gain insight or develop new ideas when they are not constantly bombarded with new information, for instance when taking a shower. These "gaps in time" are far less numerous now than they were in the past. These days, whenever they have to wait, most people pull out their phone to watch the latest news or to send a quick text message.

Apart from creating more "gap time" by putting aside your phone for some time each day, Kraus suggests actively training your long-term attention and mindfulness by going for a walk, meditating or reading a book. I took his advice and started reading Jenny White's new book "Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks." Let's hope my potential digital addiction has not damaged my brain too much yet and I am still able to concentrate for a longer period on in-depth analysis and high-level theorizing. I will keep you informed.

JOOST LAGENDIJK (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CIHAN (c) 2012 Cihan News Agency. All right reserved. Provided by an company

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