Schedule Some Downtime?

Once upon a time, we didn’t have gadgets surrounding us all the time. Do you remember that? You might, but perhaps only vaguely if research reported by the New York Times is true. Researchers at the University of California have determined that we need downtime/periods of low activity in order to digest things we’ve experienced while active. These periods allow the brain to turn things learned into long-term memories, which is the process of learning by doing.

Current technology has given us the ability to be totally connected to, and often immersed in, the world-wide web. We are bombarded with information from the minute we wake up in the morning until our head hits the pillow at night. We have computers flooding us with information all day. We even use our laptops or iPads to access expanded content for TV shows we are watching. Worst have smartphones connected to the web — and thus the world — 24/7. We have them with us all the time, even when we shouldn’t, and they steal our attention during much-needed periods of downtime.

Once we pull the gadget, whatever form it takes, out of our pocket or bag, downtime is over. It’s bad enough that we’re not giving our brains sufficient time to process the constant information bombardment, but we interrupt those times we should be focusing on things that really matter. Smartphones and current technology are great, but sometimes you just need to take a break from using them every so often.

I make every effort to step away from the gadgets and allow myself some healthy downtime, but having information available all the time makes that harder to do, as it’s now a habit. It’s not unusual to find two people out at a restaurant and both of them focused on their small smart phone screens or people emailing/texting while driving. What people are not doing is taking a break. Instead they are opting for further information stimulation. Sure, we talk about what we just read, as we like to share things. That’s not the point.

It’s almost like a craving: the need to know what’s going on everywhere, every minute. It used to be we only worried about missing a favorite TV show. Now we worry we’re not keeping up with everything in the world. It doesn’t make sense when you see it in black and white.

What we must do is put down the gadgets and step away from the computer at regular intervals throughout the day. If your job absolutely requires that you be connected via a computer throughout the day, that is fine, just make sure to take a break once you leave the office. Things like regular conversation, taking a walk, playing a sport, or simply reading a book are great ideas for downtime. Your brain needs the downtime to turn the things you learned earlier into long-term memories. Otherwise they’re lost.

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