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Beacon blog: Digitized to distraction?

While on vacation, I read an interesting New York Times story about five neuroscientists who took a wilderness trip. They wanted to see how immersion in nature might affect their digitally overloaded brains.

It took about half an hour to consume less than 10 minutes worth of text. Though alone in my house, I interrupted myself to get a glass of water, put in some laundry, turn on a fan, think about emailing the article to friends and feed the cat.

The story was part of a series called "Your Brain On Computers." It examines evidence that digital devices may be altering the way we process information and shrinking our capacity to focus. After several days in the wilderness, even the skeptics among the neuroscientists concluded that downtime seemed to enhance their capacity for creative thought.

That seems logical, with implications both personal and professional. One of the Beacon's founding principles is a belief in the importance of deep understanding and reflective thought. That's why we pay sustained attention to issues and why we connect the dots among developments.

At the same time, we know speed matters in the 24/7 news cycle and your time is precious. Striking the right balance of timeliness and depth, brevity and thoroughness is a constant challenge.

I forgot about the Times' article until Tuesday when the author, Matt Richtel, turned up on NPR. Multitasking hinders performance, he said as I was listening and driving and picking up lunch and retrieving my car from the repair shop. Technology is like food, he explained. It's appealing and essential, but too much of the wrong kind can be bad for you.

Returning to the office, I began to write this blog entry, stopping to read a newly posted article, answer several emails, change a headline and discuss a meeting. Yes, the temptation to overindulge is ubiquitous. Maybe the Beacon can do more to help people manage the distractions. Must remember to think about that later, possibly while rowing.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.