I began to associate computers with video games around the age of 8. For the first time, teachers were offering computer games as an alternative to recess. This development not only equated the two activities but also signaled the beginning of a troubling trend, one that promised and encouraged a mental escape over a physical one. In other words, as technology began to encroach on classroom activities during my childhood, the role of a computer began to transcend its original boundaries, latching itself on to our world of leisure and offering a new kind of distraction.
In his book The Language of New Media, author Lev Manovich brings up this convergence during his discussion of the interface. As he points out, “both ‘work’ applications (word processors, spreadsheet programs, database programs) and ‘leisure’ applications (computer games, informational DVD) use the same tools and metaphors of GUI” (77). In this case, the cross-functionality of the computer interface merges the world of leisure and work. My question is: what effect does this fusion have on how we use computers and how we operate in daily life? Does it have any effect at all on our brains or physical habits?
It would be hard, I think, to claim that these blurred lines have no impact on our minds. Take my mother, for example. A few years ago, my mom went to a clinic to have a sleep study done to figure out the cause of her chronic insomnia. What the doctors revealed to her was surprising. Namely, that her tendency to work on her computer in bed for hours on end was impairing her ability to sleep at night by creating a mental connection between her bed and “work time.” According to the doctors, associating lying in bed with fiddling on the computer drove out the associations previously tied to her bed: that is, sleep.
If the digital realm and what we do in it has a physical impact on how we function, then the need to separate work and leisure time on the computer becomes more significant. After all, it is this very lack of separation that likely causes us (or, at least, me) to become easily distracted while trying to conduct online research for a class or project (when Facebook and Research Databases are both available at the touch of a few buttons, the desire for a mental escape that has been fostered since elementary school can often guide one towards the first option).
Could it be, then, that the solution to procrastination (and perhaps, chronic insomnia, among other medical problems) lies in a new computer interface, one that manages to separate work tools from leisure applications? (In a world where the Internet is the gatekeeper of knowledge and practically a requirement for academics or the workplace, is this even possible?) Should the idea of a computer as a “mental” escape be abandoned, at least until later on in a child’s education, to avoid the physical repercussions later on?
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