Today we’ll discuss some of the cognitive implications of “always on” workplaces and lifestyles via a fascinating interview with Maggie Jackson, an award-winning author and journalist. Her latest book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, describes the implications of our busy work and life environments and offers important reflections to help us thrive in them.
This is a 2-part interview conducted via e-mail: we will publish the continuation on Thursday March 12th.
Alvaro Fernandez: New York Times columnist David Brooks said last year that we live in a Cognitive Age, and encouraged readers to be aware of this change and try and adapt to the new reality. Can you explain the cognitive demands of today’s workplaces that weren’t there 30–40 years ago?
Maggie Jackson: Our workplaces have changed enormously in recent decades, and it’s easy to point to the Blackberry or the laptop as the sources of our culture of speed and overload and distraction. But it’s important to note first that our 24/7, fragmented work culture has deeper roots. With the first high-tech inventions, such as the cinema, phonograph, telegraph, rail, and car, came radical changes in human experience of time and space. Distance was shattered long before email and red-eye flights. Telegraph operators not online daters experienced the first virtual love affairs, as evidenced by the 1890s novel Wired Love. Now, we wrestle with the effects of changes seeded long ago.
Today, the cognitive and physical demands on workers are steep. Consider 24/7 living. At great cost to our health, we operate in a sleepless, hurried world, ignoring cues of sun and season, the Industrial Age inventions of the weekend and vacation, and the rhythms of biology. We try to break the fetters of time and live like perpetual motion machines. That’s one reason why we feel overloaded and stressed conditions that are corrosive to problem-solving and clear thinking.
At the same time, our technologies allow us access to millions of information bites producing an abundance of data that is both wondrous and dangerous. Unless we have the will, discipline and frameworks for turning this information into wisdom, we remain stuck on the surface of Read the rest of this entry »