In an era of information overload, we are constantly exposed to innumerable channels delivering messages to us. In a car, the dashboard dials tell us about the state of the fuel tank and the traffic light tells us when we can stop and go. In the background, the radio is playing the news and out of the corner of our eyes we can see the headlines on the newspaper on the passenger seat. Outside, signs and advertisements are almost everywhere. Suddenly, the cellular phone rings.
The information overload is connected to two overlapping processes. The capitalist system pushes us to get up earlier, go to sleep late and in the middle try to earn a lot of money, while the technology in the hands of the capitalist is turned into an instrument that helps exploit time and make it into an instrument to earn money. The penetration of technology into every corner of our lives also has significance for our systems of images, language and values.
John Durham-Peters, who studies the history of communications, devotes an entire chapter in one of his books to the development of the phenomenon of the medium - those who communicate with ghosts. Surprisingly, the phenomenon caught on after the invention of the telegraph. If they could invent a machine that could send a message in seconds across the continental United States of America, why not from earth to heaven?
The study of the brain shows how the world of technological concepts has an impact on how scientists perceive the object of their research. Once the brain was imagined as a steam engine that doesn't stop - and can "get off-track." Then it was compared to a sophisticated telephone switchboard that connects various parts. Nowadays, the brain is compared to a computer with "modules" of long-term and short-term memory, a processor and various input devices.
The entry of the computer into the world has had other influences. A recent article in the Seattle Times deals with the cognitive burden that has become an inseparable part of modern life. It is expressed, among other ways, in what the computer world refers to as multitasking. The term denotes the computer's ability to perform several tasks at the same time, thereby providing suitable compensation for the valuable time of the user.
Researchers who examined the multitasking environment in which we function were amazed by the results. Prof. Gloria Mark of the University of California found that white-collar workers change tasks about once every three minutes and are forced to deal with an interruption (a phone call, e-mail, beeper, conversation with a colleague at work) every two minutes. That is one of the reasons why the maximum time of concentration for the workers she examined was only 12 minutes.
Maybe because there is so much to do and so little time to do it and since most of the workers use computers anyway, the worker is now required to perform many tasks at the same time. But according to Prof. David Meyer, who heads the brain studies labs at the University of Michigan, we simply are not capable of doing that. Human beings are capable of carrying out a number of simultaneous tasks only when they are a form of automation. When the tasks are very different, people run into problems.
And that's where the nice part of the story comes in. Meyer and his colleagues explained to the Seattle Times the complexity of the human brain and the reasons why it is unable to operate like sophisticated technology. They emphasize the dangers involved in transposing symbols from the computer world, like multitasking, to the world of humans. But they also could not avoid using metaphors from the world of technology.
Thus, for example, Meyer explains that the attempt to conduct two tasks at the same time is like broadcasting two TV channels over the same wavelength. What you get is "snow." Neurologist Jordan Grafman explained to the reporter that when a person wants to stop what he or she is doing and change tasks, "the brain presses the Pause button and then the Play button."
The fact that technological language is creeping into our language does not mean we have to boycott technology per se. It has enormous advantages. Nonetheless, sometimes it is difficult to get free of the feeling that something is a little out of control. The reason for that is - wait a second, the phone is ringing.
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