Refreshing our screen-soaked minds

Refreshing our screen-soaked minds

Our lives are so enriched and reliant on them. So much so that we spend more time in front of a screen these days than we do asleep!

Is nine-hours-a-day in front of a screen changing our minds?

Every moment we interact with the world, the connections between our brain cells strengthen, weaken and change shape. Screen-time draws us in with its immediate feedback, animation, and the ability to repeat risks without consequences.

Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) is a term coined by former Microsoft and Apple executive Linda Stone, who says CPA is motivated by a desire to be busy, to be connected, to be alive, to be recognised, and to matter. “We pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any-place behaviour that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis,” she says.

Stone says this constant connection contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, over-stimulation and to a sense of being unfulfilled. “We are so accessible, we’re inaccessible. The latest, greatest powerful technologies have contributed to our feeling increasingly powerless”.

Screen-time and green-time balance

Screen-time can be part of a balanced life, Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle explains. “The future belongs to those who are nature-smart and can combine access to technology with the restorative power of nature.”

It makes sense. After all, most of us are hungrier than ever to head out into the bush to escape work-screens, to walk, run, build or create something.

Louv offers optimism while challenging our lifestyle. He says we can tap into the restorative powers of nature to boost mental agility and ensure ‘screen and green’ can work together for health and wellbeing in our more technology-driven lives. He is all for technology like photography enticing us outdoors, like fishing gear does.

“Ultimately, we are well-served by whatever gizmo helps get us into the outdoors if we know when to put that device down and when to simply use our inborn senses to soak up the nuances of our surroundings,” Louv says.

Technology and our ability to concentrate

Technology commands our attention by bombarding us with stimulation. What does this do to our ability to concentrate?

Restoring our ‘attention-capacity’ is at the crux of brainpower, because it is our attention-capacity that gives us the ability to concentrate – crucial in everyday tasks and life effectiveness. Stay with me for a short explanation.

There are four features of an environment or activity needed to enable it to fully restore our attention, Environmental Psychologist Kathleen Bagot explains, even though some restoration can happen with just one feature – like just being away from work. These are the four attention-restoring features:

Being away – physically or psychologically – from the parts of your daily life you ‘must do’ is the first restoring feature.
Extent – the environment must offer a sense of a ‘whole other world’ – a totally absorbing activity like say a visit to the zoo.
Compatibility – the environment must support the specific activity as well as the person’s inclinations, and allow the things they want to be done, like the transport and the means to go on a shopping spree.
Fascination – stimuli that “attract people – keep them from getting bored” and don’t need effortful directed attention, Dr Bagot explains. This fascination alone does not offer a complete a restorative experience though. For example, attention-holding stimuli like an accident, a fire burning out of control, or a video game offer hard fascination but do not refresh us, she explains. While nature is ‘soft’ fascination because it’s easy, hard-fascination stimuli, because of their intensity (especially the violent) do not refresh us. “We often want to do things that are not good for us, not beneficial for us, especially hard fascination,” Dr Bagot explains.

Abundant replenishment

This is why green-space is more effective – and efficient – in restoring our ability to pay attention than any other environment or activity, as Dr Bagot explained in previous article. Other leisure activities do bring the brain back to relaxation but not to the vital ‘resting level’, where our attention is fully restored.

We accept that technology permeates and enhances every corner of our lives, so now we must set our minds to bring more nature in. It’s not a case of nature versus technology, it’s a matter of recognising how nature offers us exclusive and abundant opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources.

“The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” (Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle)

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