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 —
GUEST EDITORIAL: Lack of vaccinations puts children, community at risk
U.S. vaccination programs appear to have become a victim of their own success. Because many parents have never experienced the effects of childhood diseases such as mumps or measles — let alone polio — they don’t always appreciate the health risks the diseases pose and the continuing need for vaccinations.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 9, 2013
Remove politics from education
FLASHPOINT: Dealing with hunger requires less rhetoric, more action
In November, millions of families in Indiana and across the nation saw their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cut through a planned phase-out of a temporary increase in funding that originally took place during the 2009 recession.
READER FORUM: Dec. 8, 2013
• Diving in to pool project
• A timely review of food basics
• Name-calling shows sad state of our politics
• Republicans their own worst enemy
• Full attack on common sense
EDITORIAL: Refusing to accept injustice, Mandela made world a better place
Injustice seldom ceases easily. Humans rationalize entrenched systems of persecution. Oppressed people or ideas get painted as a danger to the peaceful social order — the status quo. Cast in that image, inequality appears acceptable, even necessary, to the masses.
Time for a tour?
There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, “Saturday Night Live” skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards.
GUEST EDITORIAL: Congress now free from the threat of too much work
The headline on the Congress-watching newspaper Politico said it all: “Done.”
RONN MOTT: A friend celebrates his 90th
I went to Charlie Fox’s 90th birthday party Sunday last. He was standing greeting people as they came in the door. I never saw him sit down even one time. He looked more like a man celebrating his 60th rather than his 90th.
Editorial: Bring on the ‘Miracle’
For five miraculous years, Terre Haute’s Christmas festival on a Friday night in early December has grown and prospered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 6, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cigars
Leaving Baesler’s Market the other day, making my round of errands, I started to re-light my cigar. It was left over from the day before and I did not place it in the humidor. It had gotten too dry, so I threw it into my garbage sack asking myself the question, “Why do I do this?” Well, I do it because I enjoy it.
Tried n True: Tea party cookies, lemon and orange
When you get done with these cookies, you will have two different flavors. Our grandkids loved to make the balls and roll them in powered sugar. I can’t remember when I first got this recipe, but it has to have been at least 40 years ago.
TRIBUNE-STAR EDITORIAL: Changing attitudes demand GOP action
From all indications, the Republican Party’s legislative leadership will punt away in its next session the opportunity to make a good decision on behalf of all Hoosiers about placing a same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 5, 2013
• Anarchy is in the ‘tea’ leaves
Editorial: Help us spread holiday cheer
The kind and generous people of the Wabash Valley are called upon often to help those less fortunate. We are proud to live an area where that call never goes unanswered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 4, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cats, Inc.
I suppose we should give her a cake and a candle, but she would be happier with a handful of “treats” you can find wherever you shop for groceries. I’m talking about the two-year anniversary of the first cat we adopted. If we had known there were going to be more, her name probably would have been different. She was Orange Crush, a small, bedraggled, starving, Golden Tabby female that wandered into our yard a little after Thanksgiving. She had been badly maltreated.
MS. TAKES: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of. Our friend, Bill, stopped by our table to offer holiday felicitations and the conversation turned, as it often does this time of year, to Christmas.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 3, 2013
• Prestige chosen over practicality
• Tea partiers love country, freedom
• Same old clowns
LIZ CIANCONE: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 3, 2013
Prestige chosen over practicality
Tea partiers love country, freedom
Same old clowns
EDITORIAL: For NESC, transparency best option
The five-member board of the Northeast School Corp. of Sullivan County is in the midst of tough times as it faces a difficult decision on the future of its schools, including Union High School in Dugger.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 2, 2013
‘Ask not …’: Living by the words we speak
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
EDITORIAL: Preserving, improving our parks
Few amenities more greatly affect the quality of life in Terre Haute than its public parks.
FLASHPOINT: Getting right with history
I am ornery enough to never much worry about whether I am on the “right” side of history.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 1, 2013
The dangers of aggressive driving
Thanks to Lowe’s for great work
Another ‘Miracle’ set for Friday
Obama lies with malicious intent
Down the path to nowhere
Remembering to help needy
Jihadis, be careful what you wish for
Hanging on to people’s rights
No more trespassers thanks to mayor
RONN MOTT: Collett Park Christmas Walk always a special event
Since I live right across the street from Collett Park, I enjoy very much this particular neighborhood. And since I have walked around it a few times, I’m familiar with the 0.8 of a mile it takes to walk around the park. The Christmas Walk is a walk around the neighborhood. There were approximately 15 homes involved and open to the public this year
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
An expansion of county parks
A teacher, visionary and leader
Reader poll results
READERS’ FORUM: Nov. 29, 2013
Cooperation helps enhance security
- More Opinion Headlines
- GUEST EDITORIAL: Lack of vaccinations puts children, community at risk