How Digital Devices Detour You from Thinking Clearly

My new smart phone is one of my coolest productivity tools. While I’m anywhere, I can talk on the phone and check my e-mail. Or read a blog. Or play a game. It takes multitasking to a whole new level.

This has to make me super productive.

Or not.

Neuroscientists are throwing cold water on the theory that digital devices are making us more productive. They say our brains need the downtime while waiting in line or exercising. We may not think we’re being productive but our brains are processing what we learned earlier. It’s part of a New York Times series called “Your Brain on Computers.” Reporter Matt Richtel examines how our greater access to data and interaction is affecting how we think.

The short story is that it’s not affecting our brains in a good way. We need downtime to process. All our computers and mobile devices are getting in the way.

This makes sense. Our brains process a lot of information while we sleep. That’s why actually “sleeping on it” is good advice when faced with tough decisions. Having time to reflect and let the subconscious process the data deluge will help.

Does it really work? Well, I’ve written two blog posts since I turned off my Twitter feed half an hour ago. That said, I did find the link to the New York Times piece in a Twitter update. So, maybe going totally “digitally dark” isn’t the solution.

Carl Natale is a freelance blogger who writes about tips and advice for small businesses. He runs the site - a site about how top brands set their prices.


  1. Gabriele Maidecchi on the 1st October

    It’s part of the way a brain works: smart phones allow us to multitask even more, and the more we multitask the worse we get at that, and at keeping focus or getting anything done in first place.
    I recently watched an interview that kind of changed the way I think about this kind of things:

  2. Cricket La Chica on the 1st October

    I find it very funny (and ironic) that this blog post came right after the one entitled, “10 iPhone Apps for Improving Productivity,” haha. I guess you guys are showing two sides of the coin, huh?

  3. Lorraine Pirihi on the 1st October

    If you want to be more productive (and profitable), keep it simple. I had two different people last week who both use Iphones, Ipads and anything else that doesn’t require actually writing anything down not get back to me with the information they promised I would have the very next day.

    In fact I didn’t hear back from either of them. Too busy having fun with technology to actually get some work done.

    Keep life simple people! It’s really hard to forget to follow up if you write a note in your diary and action it.

  4. MundoCaco on the 3rd October

    Totally agree, I had a smartphone and I did not like the feeling that my brain was constant lying, now I’m more effective in my job and better organized with much less distraction.

  5. KBascombe on the 3rd October

    Not to mention the slight stress and raise of heart speed it causes each time you hear that beep indicating a new work email or message arrival and wondering if it’s a crisis. It can’t be good for your health if your downtime is constantly interrupted. Each time your stress levels are raised it needs time to go back down to normal, so if it’s constantly raised again before that time is complete you actually never get back to that state of proper down-time.

    I’ve so far managed to stay away from receiving emails on my phone but I’m also worried that this is what the competition are offering clients and it’s something I’ll eventually need to do too just to keep up and offer the same round-the-clock services.

  6. Mimi on the 7th October

    On weekends, I’m totally away from my computer. I get to read some books and go to art galleries and other places. When I return to my office on Mondays, I just have to sit down in front of the computer and jot all my ideas for the week’s projects. I think this is productivity. The break indeed helps me process and come up with new solutions to existing problems.

    Technology is only a means, just a tool. If it stops us from improving not just as workers but as friends and family, we can consider chucking it out.

  7. Mike Vardy on the 17th February

    Five months after this article was posted, we posted this one about one contributor’s choice to stick with her dumbphone over a smartphone…

    I have to say that this is going to be an argument that is around for quite some time — new technologies emerge every day.

    Thanks to everyone for commenting!

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