Endless messaging rots brain worse than pot, study finds - Wednesday, May 4, 2005
What's more harmful -- taking a hit or hitting the send button?
A study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard has found that excessive day-to- day use of technology -- whether it's sending e-mails or using mobile phones -- can be more distracting and harmful to the IQ than smoking marijuana.
The research conducted for HP by scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London warns of the "abuse of always-on technology" in which "workers are literally addicted to checking e-mail and text messages during meetings, in the evening and at weekends."
The study called this condition info-mania.
"This is a very real and widespread phenomenon," psychologist Glenn Wilson said in a statement. "We have found info-mania, if unchecked, will damage (workers') performance by reducing their mental sharpness."
The study, conducted in Britain earlier this year, involved 80 volunteers who took part in clinical trials and interviews with 1,100 subjects.
But the study said "an average worker's functioning IQ falls 10 points when distracted by ringing telephones and incoming e-mails ... more than double the four-point drop seen following studies on the impact of smoking marijuana."
The report cited a 2002 report on marijuana use by researchers from Carleton University in Ottawa.
The research found that 62 percent of adults are addicted to checking e- mail and text messages. Half of the workers would "respond to an e-mail immediately or within 60 minutes."
One in five is "happy to interrupt a business or social meeting to respond to an e-mail or telephone message."
The 10-point drop in IQ was even more significant in men than women who took part in the tests, HP said.
The IQ decline was the equivalent of missing a whole night's sleep, the company said.
The study also found that 89 percent of workers think colleagues who respond to e-mails or messages during meetings are "extremely rude." Paradoxically, 30 percent believe doing so is acceptable and even diligent.
Debra Meyerson, professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, echoed the study's finding that "being accessible all the time is a source of stress."
"The boundaries between work and nonwork are now constructed by people turning technology on and off," said Myerson, who is involved in a study on the impact of technology on everyday life.
Ryan Montana, a director at the Love Shack, a medicinal marijuana dispensary in San Francisco, agreed. "It's kind of like a monkey on your back, " he said. "You can literally be spending hours a day checking e-mail. A person who is using prescription marijuana is not spending hours a day medicating."
But Jeff Jones, director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, stressed that, like medicinal marijuana, technology has its benefits.
"As the moral goes, everything in moderation," he said. "Sitting in front of a computer all day and not getting up is going to cause you problems. A few minutes here and there? I can't see the problem. I do it every day."
HP said the study was part of the Palo Alto company's effort to help businesses deal with improper use of technology.
The tech giant has put out some guidelines, such as discouraging the use of handheld devices and laptops during meetings and cutting down on one-word e- mail messages, such as those that just say, "Thanks."