Tech Life Multitasking might make you stupid

In Defense of N.A.D.D.

Nothing can kill a good buzz like facts.

A University of Michigan study is often thrown in the face of N.A.D.D. by those killjoys who assume N.A.D.D. has something to do with A.D.D. It doesn’t.

The alarming bullet points:

“People who are multitasking too much experience various warning signs; short-term-memory problems can be one. Intense multitasking can induce a stress response, an adrenaline rush that when prolonged can damage cells that form new memory…”

Even worse:

“Chronic high-stress multitasking also is linked to short-term-memory loss…”

Holy shit.

You read it here. N.A.D.D. causes brain damage. Forget “Senior Moments”, we’ll have “Nerd Moments”. Don’t sweat that you keep forgetting where you put that mobile phone… who needs a phone? You’ve got thirty seven other ways to get in touch with your friends about… that… that thing… it’s on the tip of my tongue… you know… the thing. We were JUST talking about it.

Where was I?

Yes, N.A.D.D. is multitasking, but N.A.D.D. is weapons grade multitasking.

Anyone with a mouse and a short attention span can bumble around sixteen open windows on the desktop, but it takes N.A.D.D. to organize them by function based on location on the screen. It’s N.A.D.D. which creates arcane (but useful) patterns of icons on the desktop. N.A.D.D. loves hot keys, syntax highlighting, color coding, and transparency.

N.A.D.D. is when your brain is fully engaged in information identification and consumption. It’s the state of mind which creates a sense of doing-ness… of learning… of exercising those essential mental muscles that teach us to instinctively know what is relevant and what is not. What better skill to exercise in a world where anything you ever wanted to know is just a google away?

One of the new articles covering the multitasking woes actually comments on this potential upside:

“It’s possible to consciously tone your multitasking muscles. Meditation can cultivate the ability to willfully control your mental focus. Other steps may help, such as weeding out distractions, honing your mental skills by making a point of continuously learning about new things, and getting plenty of rest.”

N.A.D.D. is hard work. In the first article, I pointed out how little we like our desktop environment touched. I didn’t mention the hazards of trying to pull us out of our N.A.D.D.-like state. We’ll be pissed, really pissed. You’ll ask why and we’ll respond with some vague response like “I was working”. What we were really saying was, “I was working well”.

N.A.D.D. is the zone. It’s the state where we’ve successfully constructed a healthy information processing engine through a combination of our tools, our mind, and the environment. It’s a tenuous state. Don’t mess with me , I’m N.A.D.Ding.

Sure, poor multitasking is unhealthy. Think repetitive stress injury except where you brain is the victim. If you do it poorly, you’re going to hurt yourself. There are times when I’m trying to achieve N.A.D.D. and am just doing poorly… giving myself a splitting headache repeatedly clicking on the same tabbed set of pages in Safari just waiting for something relevant to happen on the Planet Earth that catches my interest. Stuck in a rut. Apt attention wasted on nothing.

Maybe some folks never leave this endless loop of uselessness, but I learn. I improve my approach. I adjust my bookmarks. I ping a random friend in my buddy list and somehow alter the flow of data across my desktop. Maybe Orkut friend surfing is just the task to pull me in? Maybe not, but who cares? I’ve got a dizzying array of N.A.D.D. tricks designed to tickle my brain.

The folks who get N.A.D.D. know that when they summon their own bizarre set of desktop rituals, they are able to construct a healthy mental space where they can successfully surf waves of information that would baffle your average multitasker.

The folks who don’t get N.A.D.D. set it as a bizarre alien force which kidnaps their significant others and transform them into some headphone-wearing, multiple monitor-viewing, clickity-clackety keyboard-surfing freak.

That’s cool.

ed: At this point, you’re either nodding your head in agreement or still wondering what the hell I’m talking about. In either case, you should join the N.A.D.D. Support Group over at Orkut. Come define or refine your N.A.D.D and save some brain cells.

11 Responses

  1. I’d love to join the support group, but all the semi-transparent telnet sessions, bbedit windows, chat lists, development dialogs, and virtual desktops, I seem to have missed my invitation to orkut.

  2. Very interesting topic!

  3. The best part of this article was the fact that I read the title, the first quote, then skimmed the rest.

    And then promptly forgot what I was going to do next.

  4. More links and stuff

    More on the NADD thing: In defense of NADD. Also, here are some links that are cruel traps to those afflicted: Everything2 Wikipedia The Jargon File … [26 words]

  5. Seth Sanders 13 years ago

    ‘”Chronic high-stress multitasking also is linked to short-term-memory loss…”

    You read it here. N.A.D.D. causes brain damage’

    There’s a typical, and tough, problem here in the way social-science research is interpreted to the public: correlation (“is linked to”) does not imply causation. Yet just about every journalist, and member of the public, translates it that way (“causes”), because otherwise it would appear that the results may not imply…anything at all.

    So go on with your bad NADD self!

  6. On N.A.D.D.

    Rands in Repose, a blog I ran across while reading Slashdot headlines last week, introduced me to a condition playfully called N.A.D.D., or Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder. The threshold Rands suggests for determining whether or not you’re a victim …

  7. I think NADD is a symptom of something much more serious: integrating the computer into your personal FEEDBACK response loop.

    For example, everything you do is in some way a feedback loop. You do something and then it affects you in some way and you might respond to that again by altering the way you do it next time. Well, we’ve reached the point where computers, EXTENSIONS OF OURSELVES, are more and more tightly integrated into this loop, drastically altering our perspective, behavior, mood, and emotions. Our NADDness is potentially the symptom of that reality manifested… Now whether it actually causes prolonged or even short-term damage to our nervous system probably has to do with the constraints that we are constantly subjected to while using the beasts. Our desktops, our UIs, our browsers, our xterms, our editors… All of these are formally closed systems forcing us to some extent modify our behavior.

    From this concept you can infer perhaps why people like Bill Joy argue for responsible use of technology, a re-evaluation of the products we use and how we use them is in order.

  8. Follow up to N.A.D.D

    Yes, N.A.D.D. is multitasking, but N.A.D.D. is weapons grade multitasking. Anyone with a mouse and a short attention span can bumble around sixteen open windows on the desktop, but it takes N.A.D.D. to organize them by function based on location…

  9. You had me at multiple monitor viewing.

  10. I’d like to read more about “Orkut friend surfing” and its relation to N.A.D.D. .

  11. Orkut is one of greatest bad things in the Internet

    Full of SPAM, bogus users and irrelevant communities and the serious communities have a lot of irrelevant topics 🙁