Category Archives: stress

Conscious Computing

Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.   Our opportunity is to create personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings.  Conscious computing is post-productivity, post-communication era computing.  Personal technologies that enhance our lives.  Personal technologies that are prosthetics of our full human potential.

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Filed under attention, attention management, breathe, breathing, continuous partial attention, distraction, email apnea, health, O'Reilly Radar, O'Reilly Media, screen apnea, stress, technology

Kids, Video Games, Posture & Breathing

One of my favorite 8 year olds can’t get enough of his Wii.  I enjoy this child and hung out with him recently while he played his favorite video game.  He was hunched over on the sofa and I promise you, his breathing was undetectable.  With some coaxing, he moved to a wooden chair.  For the first 3 minutes, he sat up straight, then he smiled at me, said, “I like to slouch,” and continued his game slouched in the wooden chair.

Did I mention that this is how he spent his Saturday morning  just before going to an appointment with the doctor helping him with his ADHD issues?

Shallow breathing and temporary breath holding up regulates the sympathetic or fight or flight nervous system response.  I call this email apnea.  If your child has ADHD or impulse control issues and also hunches in front of a computer or video game or in front of the television, it might be time to consider an intervention that involves teaching a breathing technique that up regulates the parasympathetic or rest and digest response.

I recently spent some time playing with the HeartMath emWave Desktop software.  With short games, a player  manages his/her breathing pattern as part of game play.

At TEDMED 2009, Dr. Daniel Siegel mentioned research he’d conducted using breath training to manage ADHD.

Sometimes pharmaceuticals are the most effective option for treating a condition.   In many cases, for conditions involving impulse control, regulation of emotions, ADHD and other attention issues, it may be worth looking into options that help”re-set” the autonomic nervous system:  various breathing techniques, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, cranial-sacral, and certain forms of acupuncture.

Performance, particularly dance and music, often involve training in breathing techniques.  The same is true for certain sports.

The way we breathe is central in regulation of attention and emotion, cognition and memory, and social and emotional intelligence.

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Filed under attention, breathe, breathing, email apnea, exhale, health, overwhelmed, screen apnea, stress, technology, Uncategorized

It’s Not the WHAT, it’s the HOW…

Recently, Nicholas Carr wrote a piece:  The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.

Can we really know that’s true?  It’s the web?  Is this a declaration of war on technology?  After all, it’s shattering focus and rewiring our brains, according to Carr.

My latest Huffington Post piece, Are We at War with Technology, considers the relationship between the WHAT (technology), the HOW (how we’re using it) and the human (us).

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Filed under attention, breathe, breathing, connection, continuous partial attention, email apnea, health, Huffington Post, information overload, innovation, overwhelmed, screen apnea, stress, technology

Screens R Us: When to Take a Break

Someone always stops me in the hall at a conference or asks anxiously after a talk:  How much time should I spend in front of a screen? At what point should I pull back and take a break?  Should I stop every 30 or 45 minutes?

My response is always the same:  How do you feel?  Your body is wiser than your mind in these matters.

The challenge is, most of us, especially the brainy future thinking high tech types, tend to favor the inclinations of the mind.  The mind, for many of us, is often tyrannical towards the body.  “Just stay up 3 more hours.   One more all-nighter.   A Red Bull or two and I’ll meet this deadline!  No walk until this paper is done…”

Our always-on lifestyle has favored thinking and doing.  As we move toward a lifestyle that seeks quality of life, we’ll find ourselves valuing sensing and feeling.   We see the first signs of this in the various food related movements that are gaining popularity:  slow foods, Farmer’s Markets, and preferences for artisanal and  local organic foods.

The operative questions are: How do I feel?  What would feel better?    These questions can help create a flexible, flowing workstyle that will enable the wisdom of both body and mind to come through in everything we do.

This piece also appeared on the Huffington Post.

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Filed under attention management, email apnea, health, Huffington Post, reflection, screen apnea, stress, technology, Uncategorized

Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention

What I call continuous partial attention is referred to as complex multi-tasking in cognitive science.  Most of us don’t walk around distinguishing between simple and complex multi-tasking when we talk about our day:  “I multi-tasked all afternoon and I’m exhausted.”  “Yes, I multi-task when I drive.”  “A good chef has to multi-task.”

Were those examples of simple or complex multi-tasking?  There’s no way to know.  The differences between simple and complex multi-tasking are profound.  So, when I noticed that complex multi-tasking was increasingly pervasive in our culture, I took the liberty of giving it a new name:  continuous partial attention.   WordSpy, a fun site that tracks new words and phrases, recognizes cpa, and so does Wikipedia.

Continuous partial attention and multi-tasking are two different attention strategies, motivated by different impulses.  When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient.  Each activity has the same priority  – we eat lunch AND file papers.   We stir the soup AND talk on the phone.  With simple multi-tasking, one or more activities is somewhat automatic or routine, like eating lunch or stirring soup.  That activity is then paired with another activity that is automatic, or with an activity that requires cognition, like writing an email or talking on the phone.    At the core of simple multi-tasking is a desire to be more productive.  We multi-task to CREATE more opportunity for ourselves –time to DO more and time to RELAX more.

An image, that comes to mind for me here, is the contrast between the organization man (Whyte, 1956): a dutiful employee who ate lunch in a cafeteria or restaurant and certainly not at his desk; and the entrepreneur of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, who ate lunch at his/her desk or while filing papers, in order to get more done in a day.

Simple multi-tasking made it possible to cram more into our workday, and often, helped create a little more free time for drinks with friends, or time with family, or a favorite television show.

In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything.  We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition.  We’re talking on the phone and driving.  We’re writing an email and participating in a conference call.  We’re carrying on a conversation at dinner and texting under the table on the Blackberry or iPhone.

Continuous partial attention also describes a state in which attention is on a priority or primary task, while, at the same time, scanning for other people, activities, or opportunities, and replacing the primary task with something that seems, in this next moment, more important.  When we do this, we may have the feeling that our brains process multiple activities in parallel.  Researchers say that while we can rapidly shift between activities, our brains process serially.

Continuous partial attention involves a kind of vigilance that is not characteristic of multi-tasking.  With cpa, we feel most alive when we’re connected, plugged in, and in the know.  We constantly SCAN for opportunities – activities or people – in any given moment.  With every opportunity we ask, “What can I gain here?”

Why care about the difference between multi-tasking and cpa?

Continuous partial attention is an always on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that creates an artificial sense of crisis. We are always in high alert.  We are demanding multiple cognitively complex actions from ourselves.  We are reaching to keep a top priority in focus, while, at the same time, scanning the periphery to see if we are missing other opportunities.  If we are, our very fickle attention shifts focus.  What’s ringing? Who is it?  How many emails? What’s on my list?  What time is it in Bangalore?

In this state of always-on crisis, our adrenalized “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in.  This is great when we’re being chased by tigers. How many of those 500 emails a day is a TIGER?  How many are flies? Is everything an emergency? Our way of using the current set of technologies would have us believe it is.

Over the last twenty years, we have become expert at continuous partial attention and we have pushed ourselves to an extreme that I call, continuous continuous partial attention.  There are times when cpa is the best attention strategy for what we’re doing; and, in small doses, continuous partial attention serves us well.  There are times when cpa and ccpa compromises us.

The “shadow side” of cpa is over-stimulation and lack of fulfillment. The latest, greatest powerful technologies are now contributing to our feeling increasingly powerless. Researchers are beginning to tell us that we may actually be doing tasks more slowly and poorly.

And that’s not all. We have more attention-related and stress-related diseases than ever before. Continuous continuous partial attention and the fight or flight response associated with it, can set off a cascade of stress hormones, starting with norepinephrin and its companion, cortisol.  As a hormone, cortisol is a universal donor.  It can attach to any receptor site.  As a result, dopamine and seratonin –the hormones that help us feel calm and happy – have nowhere to go because cortisol has taken up the available spaces.  The abundance of cortisol in our systems has contributed to our turning to pharmaceuticals to calm us down and help us sleep.  Read about email apnea to understand how our relationship with screen-based activities plays a role in this fight or flight response.

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Filed under continuous continuous partial attention, continuous partial attention, multi-tasking, stress