TERRE HAUTE —
No cell phone coverage. No Internet access. No cable — in fact, no television at all. No video games, only crossword puzzles on paper. One battery-powered emergency weather radio. One land line with pre-paid phone card, but no voicemail. One creaky CD/MP3 player. Six longtime friends who can finish each other’s sentences.
We were not as unplugged as the Parke County Amish farmers from whom we regularly bought sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and zucchini, but my gal-pals and I were seriously removed last week from what’s known as “The Screen” — ubiquitous and seductive digital information devices that have made getting away from it all a quaint throwback to a different era.
I realize that for many people in 2010, especially younger people in the most tech-heavy culture on the planet, the kind of week my friends and I just spent in our communally owned lake house would constitute prolonged torture. Tens of millions of Americans start twitching after only a few minutes of tech device withdrawal.
But the only screens the six of us utilized last week were the liquid version with an SPF measure for blocking the sun and the mesh kind that keeps out the bugs.
According to a growing number of neuroscientists, our brains and bodies were grateful for the low-tech break.
Despite popular belief, it seems being plugged in during all waking moments is a lot like multitasking — it ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, and it may be exacting a price from our cognitive efficiency and our mental and physical well-being.
New York Times reporter Matt Richtel has been among the keen lay observers of behavioral and neuroscience research into the effects of being perpetually plugged in. A Pulitzer winner for his series on distracted drivers, Richtel’s ongoing set of stories is called “Your Brain On Computers.”
The field of study is fairly young, mirroring the rise of the cyber age, but Richtel has found consensus around a few ideas:
n Technology is like food. We need it and the information it supplies to function as members of our society, but — as with food — we can overdo it. We can become “obese” from too much information, we can become obsessed with accessing it, even addicted. And we are not always careful about the quality of the information we over-consume.
As Richtel put it on a recent NPR “Fresh Air” interview, “There are Twinkies and there are Brussels sprouts.”
n Brain imaging shows that incoming information affects us chemically and neurologically in myriad ways, both primitive and sophisticated. So does merely anticipating the information that might flow through a smart phone, BlackBerry, laptop or voice mail.
Stress hormones such as adrenaline often accompany an engagement with The Screen, as do feel-good chemicals such as dopamine. Cortisol output increases. Sleep patterns also can be affected by using what scientists call “heavy technology,” in the same way that over-eating or consumption of alcohol or vivid television images can impair sleep.
n Never in human history have we been so plugged in, so exposed to so much information and stimulus — and so culturally expected to access as much of it as we can. So far, though, our human brain seems to be processing the many info streams as it has always done — one at a time.
Contrary to what the glorification of all-things-tech would lead us to believe, we cannot serve two (or 10) masters with equal attention; something suffers, whether it’s genuine engagement with our children or spouse as we text and Twitter, or our driving acumen as we conduct conference calls behind the wheel.
Of course, the brain is adaptable. As Richtel explained on Fresh Air, the frontal lobe, which “sets priorities and make choices” and processes all the sensory information from the other brain cortices, develops last. Maybe generations raised on nothing but a plugged-in information diet will evolve into beings with efficiently multi-tasking brains, but we’re not there yet.
During the same week my Lake Lady friends and I gathered for our annual Hoosier reunion, Richtel wrote about his own unplugged outing with five neuroscientists, who usually are tethered to their various digital information devices. As an experiment, the group went camping, hiking and whitewater rafting in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah. There was no cell phone or Internet service, only an emergency satellite telephone that was not to be used for anything but a crisis.
While some of the scientists on the trip do not buy the theory that heavy tech use isn’t worth its downsides, others buy the theory enthusiastically. Yet no matter which side the researchers occupy, they all noticed positive changes in their ability to focus, perceive and engage as they disconnected from The Screen and immersed themselves in pristine nature.
They also came to view some of their plugged-in habits and obsessions in different lights. One scientist admitted that, after doing without his cell phone for a week, he realized he doesn’t always use the device for necessary communication.
“Sometimes I do use it as an excuse to be antisocial,” he told Richtel. Sometimes, he said, he uses it because he’s just plain bored.
My friends and I went through the customary device withdrawal for the first couple of days. Memory would fail us on a movie star or politician’s name, and someone would lament, “If only we had ’Net access, we could Google it.” Then, we stopped complaining, the same way we quit whining about having to punch in about 20 numbers from the phone card to make an occasional call.
Gradually, though, we surrendered to a lifestyle that matches our lake house’s age — early 1960s: electricity, indoor plumbing, a charcoal grill, lots of blender concoctions and our favorite tunes.
This year, despite our senior citizen status, our music was heavy on Lady Gaga, who we all find as danceable and singable as vintage Disco and Motown. Although she has a Facebook page with more than 10 million friends, we didn’t visit it. We simply pushed the “CD play” button and let her raise our endorphin levels the semi-old-fashioned way. Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah/ Roma, roma, ma/ Gaga, ooh, la la.
Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
EDITORIAL: Legislative session produced results both good and bad
The 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly was gaveled to a close late Thursday after a flurry of activity produced a dizzying variety of legislative action. Within hours, the session results were being both praised and cursed, largely depending on political and ideological views of government’s place in the world.
FLASHPOINT: Energy bill a no-brainer target for Pence’s veto pen
Indiana has, for many years, wrestled with the question of what policy, if any, to pursue to advance new, alternative visions of how we deal with waste, move around and grow our food. Fortunately, we’ve seen some tangible signs of progress in the Indiana General Assembly with respect to recycling, mass transit and local food systems.
READERS' FORUM: March 16, 2014
• Time for change in assessor office
• Are Indiana’s chemical storage tanks safe?
• Voters of Indiana Thinking carefully about health care
• Put an end to costly primaries
• Founders understood representation rights
• What about bridge?
• Young people don’t know rules
• So many words, so little space
KIEL MAJEWSKI: Sexual violence demands the world’s action
I have a lot to learn in life, but I am convinced of this: The day men share power equally with women is the day we will see true peace in this world. The day women and girls are valued as much as men and boys, and are treated with the same respect as their male counterparts, is the day we will finally see healthy societies.
MARK BENNETT: All aboard!
Find me a George Mason University basketball T-shirt in Indiana.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
In the competitive and highly entertaining world of collegiate athletics, Sunday is akin to a national holiday. At 6 p.m., the NCAA will announce the field and seedings of its 2014 Division I men’s basketball tournament.
RONN MOTT: One and done, 2014 style
Hoosiers, this time of the year, turn their minds and emotions to the grand old game of “hoops.”
EDITORIAL: Our children in poverty
An important gauge for measuring the long-term prospects of a community is the well-being of its children. For all the effort and progress Vigo County has made in rebuilding the economy and improving its quality of life, chronic problems with the welfare of its children still exist.
READERS' FORUM: March 14, 2014
• ISU officers should stay on campus
• Good reasons why guns are needed
• Salute to Jake
RONN MOTT: Ukraine 2
The situation in the Ukraine should let us know plainly, and openly, the old saying about a leopard never changing its spots is true. Vladimir Putin is a KGB officer, grew up a communist and, from all appearances, still believes like a communist.
EDITORIAL: Meth battle never ends
It’s been more than a decade since local police officials declared methamphetamine as “public enemy No. 1.”
READERS' FORUM: March 13, 2014
• Celebrating the Girl Scouts
• Challenging the politicians
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on a cool day (Part III)
• Resolving to praise ISU
• Right down our alley
- READERS' FORUM: March 12, 2014
RONN MOTT: SAWS
A few days ago we talked to John Anderson of the Greencastle Presbyterian Church. He’s the coordinator for a mission of the church that builds ramps and stairs for those who are physically handicapped in Putnam County.
EDITORIAL: Thinking warm thoughts (Part II of III)
• Renewing a local library commitment
LIZ CIANCONE: We’re not only ones ready for springtime
During the most recent of our numerous descents into polar temperatures, I was astounded to see a dozen or more robins up to their ankles in snow. They were fluffed out to about twice their normal size. I suppose that was an effort to provide a bit of feathered insulation against the cold.
READERS' FORUM: March 11, 2014
• Meat-free path to the fountain of youth
• Faulty point?
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on cool days (Part I of III)
• Something good’s brewing
• Y we can’t take it for granted
FLASHPOINT: Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t
At a public gathering the other day, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.
READERS' FORUM: March 10, 2014
• Our government’s heart and soul
• A plea for more give and take
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
EDITORIAL: Ads on the sides of school buses? What have we come to?
Ads on the sides of school buses do not constitute a sign of the apocalypse. Western civilization will survive.
Flashpoint: President should stop Medicare Advantage cuts
Virtually all elected officials — Republicans and Democrats — share the goal of increasing access to affordable health insurance and helping families receive the best coverage to meet their specific needs.
Readers’ Forum: March 9, 2014
Mardi Gras great event for Swope
EPA regs will cause energy bills to soar
Please pray for Ukraine innocents
Sinful thinking on road to hell
Liberty — or licentiousness
People will not always agree
Botched chance at leadership
RONN MOTT: Radio now a long lost love
I fell in love with radio when I was 16, just a few short weeks before my 17th birthday. The man who did the deed and hired me was Adlai Ferguson.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
Welcome to girls teams, fans
You can say that again
Reader Poll results
EDITORIAL: What do Sony cutbacks mean?
It is easy to understand why shivers run down local people’s spines whenever rumors hit the streets about Sony DADC’s plant on Terre Haute’s east side. With more than 1,400 people currently employed in Sony’s production and distribution facilities, the community has grown somewhat dependent on the economic stability Sony provides.
- Readers’ Forum: March 7, 2014
RONN MOTT: Knicks
The big noise in the NBA is whether Carmelo Anthony will stay with the New York Knicks or go elsewhere.
If my memory serves, and it doesn’t always, Carmelo left the Denver Nuggets, the team that drafted him, to play in the bright lights of the Big Apple. It was loudly proclaimed at the time that Carmelo wanted to play for a championship team. The Knicks’ ownership bought a bunch of players and spent a whole bunch of money to aid Carmelo in helping the Knicks to get to a championship.
- More Opinion Headlines
- EDITORIAL: Legislative session produced results both good and bad