According to this New York Times article, two Harvard faculty members say that information causes a “dopamine squirt” in humans, a rush similar to that given by narcotics. Just as narcotics are addictive, information is as well. They’ve given the disorder of information addiction the name ‘pseudo-ADD’ because it tends to cause somewhat ADD-like symptoms. Pics)
The ubiquity of technology in the lives of executives, other businesspeople and consumers has created a subculture of the Always On — and a brewing tension between productivity and freneticism. For all the efficiency gains that it seemingly provides, the constant stream of data can interrupt not just dinner and family time, but also meetings and creative time, and it can prove very tough to turn off.
Some people who are persistently wired say it is not uncommon for them to be sitting in a meeting and using a hand-held device to exchange instant messages surreptitiously — with someone in the same meeting. Others may be sitting at a desk and engaging in conversation on two phones, one at each ear. At social events, or in the grandstand at their children’s soccer games, they read news feeds on mobile devices instead of chatting with actual human beings.
These speed demons say they will fall behind if they disconnect, but they also acknowledge feeling something much more powerful: they are compulsively drawn to the constant stimulation provided by incoming data. Call it O.C.D. — online compulsive disorder.
“It’s magnetic,” said Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatry instructor at Harvard. “It’s like a tar baby: the more you touch it, the more you have to.”
Dr. Hallowell and John Ratey, an associate professor at Harvard and a psychiatrist with an expertise in attention deficit disorder, are among a growing number of physicians and sociologists who are assessing how technology affects attention span, creativity and focus. Though many people regard multitasking as a social annoyance, these two and others are asking whether it is counterproductive, and even addicting.
The pair have their own term for this condition: pseudo-attention deficit disorder. Its sufferers do not have actual A.D.D., but, influenced by technology and the pace of modern life, have developed shorter attention spans. They become frustrated with long-term projects, thrive on the stress of constant fixes of information, and physically crave the bursts of stimulation from checking e-mail or voice mail or answering the phone.
“It’s like a dopamine squirt to be connected,” said Dr. Ratey, who compares the sensations created by constantly being wired to those of narcotics — a hit of pleasure, stimulation and escape. “It takes the same pathway as our drugs of abuse and pleasure.”
“It’s an addiction,” he said, adding that some people cannot deal with down time or quiet moments. “Without it, we are in withdrawal.”