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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 27, 2010

Mired in Media

By Mark Sisson
75 Comments

We all live with distraction – kids running through the house, a co-worker’s constant pop-ins to chat (and avoid work), telemarketer calls during dinner. Some days it’s a wonder we get anything done. Digital distractions, however, are another animal entirely. Whether we’re updating a financial spreadsheet or working on a document, there’s the lure of the Internet, email, social networking sites. When we’re not on the computer, there are calls and texts from the cell phone, a mind-boggling array of apps on our smart phone, and the old standby – T.V. It’s a far cry from Grok’s day when there was nothing to watch but the stars and dim silhouette of a darkened landscape, nothing to hear except the wind in the grasses, the distant calls of animals and chatter of family.

Yes, the irony isn’t lost on me: in addition to this blog, I’m on Twitter and Facebook. Then there’s the e-newsletter, online forum, and podcasts. I’m a tech junkie at this point, but like it or not that’s the way the world goes round these days. Most of us, I dare say, are caught up in it to some degree by choice or circumstance. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’m alone when I say there are times I need to disentangle myself from the digital web. Whether it’s to walk on the beach or to just totally focus on a project, I periodically unplug entirely.

A recent New York Times series on the “plugged in existence” highlighted the story of five neuroscientists who set out on a rafting trip along the San Juan River, where digital signals don’t reach. Their purpose was two-fold: to personally experience being out of touch for those days and to professionally deliberate the technological tethering of the modern brain. Some of the group had a harder time being disconnected than others. By the third day, however, everyone was noticeably more relaxed and engaged, a phenomenon the trip’s organizer, Professor David Strayer of the University of Utah, calls the “third day syndrome.” (Thinking about my own vacations, this pattern rings pretty true. No?)

The problem with living plugged in is, unlike the momentary chaos of children dashing through the kitchen, we too often bring on the digital distractions ourselves. Experts say we actually seek out interruptions of the digital variety like reward pellets in a lab cage. (There’s a reason they call that thing a “Crackberry.”) If you have a hard time resisting the lure of the computer or phone, you know what I mean. It’s the enticement to look up “one more thing” or not miss an anticipating message, to stay in the know – right now. That’s what some of the scientists dealt with transitioning to the river wilderness, and it’s what many of us might feel when we’re away or when service is down.

Sure enough, the experts say, there’s evolutionary impetus behind the inclination. Evidently, we’re hardwired to favor the new and novel details in our environment over the involved project (like those dirty dishes) in front of us, and there’s a dopamine reward attached to the impulse. It wouldn’t pay for Grok to get so immersed in skinning dinner or talking with family that he misses the wolf pack circling his camp. Of course, our own distraction rarely yields such critical information. Our natural distractibility isn’t as adaptive in the modern digital landscape where our incessant curiosity is more likely met with another spam ad than a vicious predator.

Plugged In: Falling Behind and Checked Out?

Of course, this constant back and forth makes for a rather disjointed existence. That, researchers say, is the real concern. Met with constant interruption, our thinking becomes scattered, jumbled. At times, it can feel like we’re playing multiple shell games, trying to recall where we were in the midst of each one. Researchers tell us that the persistent intrusions and diversions of this technological multitasking leave our brains fatigued. A Stanford University study showed that media multitaskers “do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.” They have a harder time filtering out “irrelevant” information and getting to work applying what they’ve learned. In every task the researchers administered, self-declared “heavy” media multitaskers were outperformed by those less inclined to multitasking.

One of the problems seems to be multitasking’s demands on our working memory, the mental space that holds information we are currently “working with” and manipulating for reasoning and other purposes. Even the anticipation of a message, for example, absorbs working memory space. Furthermore, short-term memory can take a hit as well because of the added stress reported by multitaskers. And yet another study confirmed that multitasking literally changed the parts of the brain used in learning, and the consequence was less than encouraging. Interrupted learning is compromised learning, the study showed. Distractions resulted in impaired memory recall.

The overall research picture on multitasking, particularly media multitasking, points to a disturbing picture. We live with a damaging combination of influences: a deluge of digital information and a lack of downtime to intellectually synthesize it, reflect on it and make meaning with it.

As one of the neuroscientists on the rafting trip earlier suggests, “[P]eople are walking around fatigued and not realizing their cognitive potential.”

If our productivity and cognition are suffering as a result of our media gorge, experts seem most worried about the state of our relationships. A poll taken by the New York Times found that media use influenced one out of seven spouses to spend less time with their partners and one of ten parents to shortchange time with their kids

Being There

What do we miss when we step away from dinner to take yet another phone call or check email? What do we give up when family members retreat with their respective devices each night? What do we forgo when we spend a road trip immersed in a DVD player or iPod? What impact is there when people can’t stand in line, sit at the airport or even walk the dog without staring at or talking into an electronic device?

There’s more, actually, than the immediate missed opportunities, neglected obligations, and disappointed loved ones. We’re not only giving up what’s in the moment but also the capacity to later attend to people and events with the same mental energy and focus when we finally disengage ourselves from our techno toys. A taxed brain peters out more quickly after all. How much do we give to our gadgets, and how little is then left for the real priorities in our lives? As balanced a life as I try to lead, I know the article series has given me food for thought. It’s also reaffirmed the Grok metaphor for me once again – the representation of a simpler life rooted in the essentials of existence. It’s a worthy reminder that living Primally for me is really about the full picture.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on making peace/finding balance with the digital realm. Here’s wishing you a little more dasein in your day. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the weekend, everybody!

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75 Comments on "Mired in Media"

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Zac
Zac
6 years 28 days ago

The “Plugged In: Falling Behind and Checked Out?” section sounds a lot like what happens in high school students. I can’t begin to tell you how true this is, being a fresh 2010 graduate. It’s degrading…

Tarun
Tarun
6 years 28 days ago

I definitely feel the same lately, when I’m working on a spreadsheet it seems that I need music in the background, as if I want to crowd out my own thoughts. The same applies to websites, my RSS reader being the big evil here. 😉

Mary
Mary
6 years 28 days ago
Since I was a kid, I’ve had a weird aversion to watching more than a little TV (like, more than an hour). I get something like motion sickness from it, and noticed when I was maybe 9 years old or so that it also made me feel depressed. This has turned out to be a good thing, in many ways, because TV just doesn’t have the draw for me that it seems to have for a lot of people. I really haven’t ever watched more than a couple hours of TV a week, if that. Even movies on TV are… Read more »
Primitive
Primitive
6 years 28 days ago

In respect to TV, I’m the same; I just don’t watch it, except very rarely; so, although, I have nothing to say (and really don’t care) when friends and colleagues talk about latest shows, I have plenty of time for reading, my lifelong passion.
However, I’m a technologist surrounded by gadgets, which at leisure times I use, mainly, for reading meaningful subjects.

Ryan
Ryan
6 years 28 days ago

Excellent article Mark. I rarely read an article all the way through – I usually skim, but this one was so good I read it word-for-word and re-read it and took notes!

Tara
Tara
6 years 28 days ago

I gave up facebook almost a year ago and my mind has been so much less cluttered. I don’t miss it one bit!

Jamie
6 years 28 days ago

I’m with you Tara. I ditched Facebook for a number of reasons. The whole thing does my head in. People who had my phone number or email address would only contact me on Facebook… it was just nuts. I don’t miss it at all. And bonus – it has freed up time for me to read MDA!

ZhuWaWa
ZhuWaWa
6 years 23 days ago

I gave up on Facebook too! I think everyone should boycott Facebook: its controlling our lives, distorting our self-perception.

Somebody should really find a way to spread the word about this… a facebook group maybe?…

pieter d
pieter d
6 years 28 days ago

I have no television. I’ve never been on facebook, never have tweeted, … But since 3 years, since discovering paleo/primal lifestyle, I have spent a lot more time on the internet. Even more than I want to. Because, let us face it, once you get the hang of primal living, it is easy. There’s no need of reading or researching about it every day.

Still, it is fun to read all the great blogs and websites.

Suvetar
Suvetar
6 years 28 days ago
True here, too. The only reason I sometimes sit here for 1-2 hours behind my PC is to research Health. If it wasn’t for the internet my health would be going down hill right now and everyone around me with it. Thanks to the invention of Internet and Google I am now in perfect health (besides my small palates and crowded teeth but I’m getting that fixed now, too). Mark, you seriously need to do a post about dental arches and orthodontics that fix it for all of us Primal Folks. I think it’s important. It would bring a lot… Read more »
Caitlin
Caitlin
6 years 28 days ago

Loved the post Mark!

I can’t tell you how nuts it drives me when I’m hanging out with a friend, and one of the whips out a cellphone to send an imporant message. Man, does it ever make YOU feel not important.

I am going on a trip soon, and I’m going to challenge myself and my boyfriend to turn off our cellphones for three days! Hopefully we can manage.

Katie
Katie
6 years 28 days ago
This is a good kick in the pants. I am sitting at work being distracted by the latest ‘primal news’ because I don’t really want to do the heavy project I have ahead. I will be turning off my internet after this post. It further reminds me to get our dining room table set up. We recently moved and that piece of furniture hasn’t been put back together leading to a very bad habbit of chilling in front of the TV at dinner time. That is the project for the weekend. Intelectually I think the concept of having dinner in… Read more »
Shel
6 years 28 days ago

Mark, with this post, i think you’ve entered into a deeper, broader aspect of the whole paleo paradigm.

this is beginning to look like a philosophy.

…interesting.

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Primal Toad
6 years 28 days ago
Ah, media is so much different today then what it was just a few days ago. Facebook, twitter, youtube, blogs and more. We can get the news we want as soon as its available. iPhones and now iPads. What will the world be like in 5 years? Or even 1-3 years? Different once again. When you run a blog, engaging in social networking sites is a great way to promote your blog and connect with people. But, one must find balance and not over do it. I am guilty of spending too much time on these sites but am doing… Read more »
AJ
AJ
6 years 28 days ago

Sadly by reading this post I am avoidning work, which is exactly what the article is about… 🙁

Charles J. Walker
Charles J. Walker
6 years 28 days ago

Unless you allow work to distract you from reading this post! 🙂

Primal Toad
6 years 28 days ago

Nice.

Sarah
6 years 28 days ago
Obviously, I realize that I’m lucky I can do this, but when I’m not at work, I’m not at a computer. As a librarian, I’m sitting in front of a computer for 8-9 hours a day – not fun. Sometimes I’ll check my email over the weekend or look to see when a movie is showing, but that’s it. I don’t buy into the smartphone texting crap, which makes me an odd member of Generation Y, but I think I experience more of life this way. If someone has something to tell me, they should call. I highly recommend to… Read more »
WRS
WRS
6 years 28 days ago
Over the last couple years, I have watched less and less TV. Not sure if the programming no longer piques my interest or if I just prefer doing whatever else it is I choose to do. Since going Primal this is even more true it seems. My wife; however, watches as much or more TV than ever. It’s lead to some conflict as we both accuse the other of not wanting to spend time together. I am guilty of spending too much time on the internet while at work. I need to address that as soon as I finish typing… Read more »
Kelda
6 years 28 days ago
Great piece Mark, as usual. I’ve thought about this a lot in the last six months since crash and burning with CC training. And have spent some days media-free and it really does make a difference. Very interesting to read about the deleterous effects of multitasking and media infiltration into memory capacity and performance, only today my mother (68) was decrying her sister’s (71) refusal to get a computer and become part of the online community – I often think my Aunt is a great deal more chilled than my mother and a far happier person! And in fact has… Read more »
Anna
6 years 28 days ago

And how difficult wasn’t that?

I mean reading this article as a whole, not clicking around in a thousand web browser tabs in between every passage. Omg.

Dave Fish
Dave Fish
6 years 28 days ago

Gulp! I read this on my iPad at the airport!

Lars1000
6 years 28 days ago

I cut out cable tv a month ago, and greatly enjoy the higher quality relaxation at home.

Primal Toad
6 years 28 days ago

I am right with you here. I have not cut out cable tv completely but damn do I watch a lot less television then I did just 1-2 years ago.

Most weeks I watch no more than 2 hours. I enjoy sports but don’t even watch much of that anymore. I just would rather sit outside and “do nothing” or read a book, take a walk, run, or whatever. Or play the sport that would be watched on TV!

Ryan Denner
6 years 28 days ago
great post mark (as usual). I find this as more than coincidence, as my dad sent me that NYT article(s) the other day. Rather than a quick one liner, I actually replied with thought – because its a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to lately! This is what I said: “I totally agree. I love the droid, but I dont like being connected – ALL THE TIME. There are some days where I actually shut it off and leave it off for the majority of the day, and do the same at night too. On occasion, I will… Read more »
jus
jus
6 years 28 days ago

Geoff,

Your post was so enlightening and full of wit. I would like to subscribe to your newsletter, please let me know how.

If the guy wants to paraphrase then let him. You don’t have to read it.

Barry Weidner
6 years 28 days ago

Just had a discussion with my friend this morning over coffee about this exact topic. Spot on, Mark! Thanks for the post.

Harry
Harry
6 years 28 days ago
This is a great … brb (my cell phone is ringing and I have a Tweet coming in. Back. Actually, I only turn my cell phone on for emergencies and to connect with someone, e.g. at the state fair. I do not have Twitter. No TV viewing for a couple years. Facebook is my only trendy social medium. It is an important link to some people. But I don’t spend much time with it. Not bragging though – I spend many hours a day on the computer, both for work and social interaction. I am very involved with Second Life.… Read more »
primalman
primalman
6 years 28 days ago

I have not posted a comment here for a very long time (although I visit the site each day).

However, I am compelled to post today just to say that this is one of your best updates ever.

Anthony Michael
Anthony Michael
6 years 28 days ago

This is a great post, Mark. I think the most important thing for all of us is to….oh, wait. There goes my Blackberry. Be right back!

EvadneFrances
EvadneFrances
6 years 28 days ago

We just recently spent a week at a cabin in the mountains with our highly wired to the world 20-something son and his girlfriend. There was no internet, tv, radio, nada, and I wasn’t sure how they would do. But we hiked & swam, watched the stars, did a group jigsaw puzzle, napped, told stories, laughed, and RELAXED. Everyone, younger generation included, agreed it was the best vacation we’d ever had. I highly recommend disconnecting– except to MDA, of course 🙂 –to experience how great it really is.

Brad Gantt
Brad Gantt
6 years 28 days ago

Great post Mark. I have engaged in periodic media “fasts”. For a few years now. The basic version involves giving up radio, tv & internet for a set period of time, while the full-monty version means giving-up (recorded) music and printed material as well. In either case it’s a great practice and really helps to re-set my head.

Karen
Karen
6 years 28 days ago
I, like Ryan, usually skim when reading online, but I read every word of this post. Love it! Several months ago I participated in a “technology sabbath” and it was, without exaggeration, one of the most enjoyable days of my life. Didn’t hurt that it was a spectacularly beautiful spring day and I had the house to myself. 🙂 I lounged. I read. I daydreamed. I napped. It was glorious. My life has actually changed direction because of that day – for one thing, I realized I want to leave my technology-based job for a different career. But more than… Read more »
Dawn
Dawn
6 years 28 days ago

My most peaceful moments are spent in the oudoors, in places that force me to disconnect. No electricity, no cell service, completely unplugged. I am still trying to figure out how to bring the peace I feel outdoors, inside to where I always feel crazy – too much technology, noise, multitasking, etc. etc. Maybe I need to focus on doing less, and doing one thing at a time. A follow up post about how to live primally peaceful in chaotic everyday life would be great! =)

Julie Aguiar
Julie Aguiar
6 years 28 days ago
HA HA! Great post! Close to home these days..I will try to keep it brief..(always a challenge) I watch little to no TV..it just doesnt hold my interest, and I get antsy because I could be DOING so many other things. I do not have a (dumb) “smart” phone. I can text, (prompt and to the point) and call..what else do I need? I can browse the internet from my computer if I choose..such as this site..:) Hubby can sit in front of the tube or video games for HOURS on the couch…not suprisingly , Hubby has a new place… Read more »
Simon
Simon
6 years 28 days ago

Great article! Really got me thinking about my habits and what I want to focus my mental powers on.

Curt
Curt
6 years 27 days ago
This was a great article. This summer I did a study abroad trip to Costa Rica with some other students from my university. I spent three weeks with no phone service, no email or Internet, and no MP3 player. I found that I was able to enjoy some rather profound and thoughtful experiences (although part of that was due to being in an area with majestic mountains, volcanoes, and clear night skies). However, towards the end of the trip I began to actually miss the connected world. I was surprised at how much I missed it–it wasn’t that I checked… Read more »
Tadas
Tadas
6 years 27 days ago

I also have the problem of beeing distracted from the media way too much…
It would be nice if the next post would be about how to overcome this addiction.

Heather
Heather
6 years 27 days ago

Mark, thank you for another wonderful and thought-provoking post! Our family, which includes three young children, has no TV, no “smart” phones, and is limited in the use of the internet. We do have lots of family time, long conversations, books read aloud after dinner, and connections that are far more fulfilling than any tweets, texts, or commercial-break conversations! Extended family has questioned our choices, but we’re happy this way!

James C
6 years 27 days ago

Fantastic post, Mark. Your points on multitasking are also consistent with business literature on improving productivity. The whole point of the Getting Things Done Method and some key aspects of Four Hour Work Week tie in to eliminating non-priority junk so that you can focus on high-priority things with 100% attention. These methods get you out of the office faster, happier and with more time to spend with your family. Grok on!

Nicolas
Nicolas
6 years 27 days ago

Brilliant. Just the push I needed for a change. Not a extreme swing to the other side, but a few steps in the simpler direction. I think I might switch back to a land line, which makes gettingnin touch harder for others than for me, a difficult choice, but possibly a worthy sacrifice.

PrimalOnahill
PrimalOnahill
6 years 27 days ago

I know I usually deny it, but our most unhealthy habit is the time we spend in front of the computer. We gave up our TV a year ago and don’t miss that a bit, but our work keeps us in front of a computer screen, we both love reading various blogs that interest us, and I keep up w/ the Red Sox online and administer a website for my league. It’s too much.

Now, what are we going to do about it?

Sharon
Sharon
6 years 27 days ago
I love, love, love the computer and internet. Being a curious person and an information junkie, I am constantly amazed that I can find out anything I want to know on the internet. In high school, I took a typing class back before electric typewriters were invented. For me, it was a nightmare having to correct all my misspelled words on that thing and I never was able to type very fast. Typing on a computer is pure heaven in comparison. I also like connecting up with friends and family on the other coast (US) via email since with the… Read more »
Jenny Morris
Jenny Morris
6 years 27 days ago

This is why I make myself sit on the front porch to knit. My cellphone does not work there, and sometimes a neighbor will actually stop and talk to me. Oh, and I get a little vitamin D while I’m sitting there!

Danielle Fowler
Danielle Fowler
6 years 26 days ago

Wonderful article on a topic I think most of us already know, but need to be reminded!! As a nurse I do nothing but multitask, and I absolutely feel the decrease in memory and in-ability to think things through without having to “move onto the next”. By reading some of the other comments…I feel challenged to give up facebook!

Cj
Cj
6 years 26 days ago

I remember that as a new flight attendant only 15 years ago, people would line up at pay phones in the airport with calling cards to tell contacts that they would be late…remember all those phone banks in airports and malls? They are GONE…NOW they just email right from their seats! Some good, some bad with the digital age. One just has to know how to balance it all…sOOooo…it’s time to get off this thing! TATA!

Andrew
Andrew
6 years 26 days ago

“Less TV. More Real Life.”

No truer words have ever been written on a bathroom stall.

West
West
6 years 25 days ago

As part of the Primal Challenge, I’m also going on a ‘media diet’. I’ll be reducing my internet + cellphone usage during the course of the Challenge, and document the changes (physical and mental).

I may even go so far as to install one of the ‘stay on task’ applications for the month! Perhaps you could add this as ‘extra credit’ for the Challenge, Mark?

West
West
6 years 25 days ago

I realized I should also state that we don’t own a television, so no need to remove that from my intake. We watch occasional movies on our computer, and will probably reduce that as well.

brad
brad
6 years 25 days ago

The most that the media is in my life is when im at home. when im at home i spend more time on the computer and watching tv. but when im away from from the media doesnt affect me a whole lot

austin
austin
6 years 25 days ago

granted, there are amusing things on tv and it can be very entertaining, tv is okay as a distraction as long as it is in moderation.

nathan
6 years 24 days ago

I know what you mean about the 3rd day syndrome. I went on vacation for most of August and was checking my email 1-2x a day for the first couple of days. By week 2 I wasn’t even interested in turning on a computer. It felt nice to “unplug|. Of course, as soon I came home it was right back to the old habits!

Zach
6 years 20 days ago

I never realized how much time I waste with electronics until I read this article. Real eye-opener!

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[…] bilder idag men en intressant länk: Digital Media och Vi « tisdag […]

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[…] good overview of this phenomenon can be found on Mark’s Daily Apple, in his article “Mired in Media.”  Met with constant interruption, our thinking becomes scattered, […]

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[…] Mired in Media – Tune out every once in awhile. […]

Noctiluca
Noctiluca
4 years 11 months ago
This summer was the ultimate ‘unplug’ for me. I was working in Alaska for 4.5 months and for 6-7 days at a time I had no phone, radio, internet, etc. I was living in a place where they just didn’t exist. I did use my iPod to listen to a little bit of music (mostly while washing the dinner dishes!) and several books on tape (that was awesome and actually got me thinking a LOT. I listened to Born to run and Animal, vegetable, miracle, both of which I would recommend!) I did have all the normal amenities (minus TV… Read more »
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