Special Issue: Connected State of Mind

For centuries, we’ve freaked out about the impact of new technology on our brains and behaviors. Take, for instance, these hand-wringing passages from the turn of the 20th century. Authors complained that new technology and the pace of life was transforming our minds into “torpid” brains “too weak for sustained thought,” and pointed to “the existence of mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people, especially in large cities.”  What was the primary cause of these brain abnormalities? “…the hurry and excitement of modern life.”

Today we’re told both that our brains are being hijacked and that stories of mental degeneration are overblown. We read that teenagers are on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades” while others say any links between mental health and tech use use are inconclusive. Even Facebook has weighed in on the debate, recently publishing research that answers the question, is social media bad for us? Their answer: Users feel worse after logging on if they’re using it to passively scroll through others’ updates, rather than interact with others.  

The debate piqued our interest, and we decided we wanted to deepen the dialogue. Over the next three weeks, in our special issue “The Connected State of Mind,” we’ll bring you an in-depth look at our relationship with technology, with an eye for how we use our smartphones and social media. For the issue, we’ve assembled a diverse set of thinkers and vantage points. You’ll find commentary from and conversations with leading scientists, original reporting, coverage of new research, as well as cartoons and photography.

We’ll explore how scientists and the public have reacted to new technology in the past, investigate the ways we use (and perhaps misuse) our smartphones and social media, analyze the continuum of claims about tech from savior to satan, and uncover remedies for distracted minds. Through our cartoons, we’ll learn about the psychology of search engines and hear about an artist’s search for flow. 

There’s no magic Google search that will tell you how you should use technology. And the purpose of “Connected State of Mind” is not to provide a definitive answer. As you’ll find out, the story is too complex for that. What we’re striving to do, in the spirit of curiosity and intellectual debate, is bring together a diverse body of ideas and evidence to spur reflection, discussion, and even new research. Our New Year’s resolution: give you the knowledge you need to decide how you’d like to use technology in the new year.

Week 1

A History of Panic Over Entertainment Technology
By Christopher J. Ferguson and Cathy Faye

The Assault on Empathy
By Sherry Turkle

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone
By David M. Markowitz and Jeffrey T. Hancock

Who’s Your Real Boss?
By Kristian Sørensen and Mikkel Holm Sørensen

With Your Smartphone, Fear is Never Far Away
By Fuzz Hogan

The Need for Nuance: A Conversation with Amy Orben
By DJ Neri

Week 2

Investigating the Irresistible: A Conversation with Adam Alter
By Elizabeth Weingarten

Productivity in Peril: Higher and Higher Rates of Technology Multitasking
By L. Mark Carrier, Larry D. Rosen, and Jeffrey N. Rokkum

Remedies for the Distracted Mind
By Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen

Resistance is Futile: Embracing The Era of the Augmented Worker
By Nathaniel Barr and Kelly Peters

Ask a Behavioral Scientist: Nir Eyal on how the “Regret Test” Makes for Good Ethics and Good Business
By Nir Eyal

Where Did You Go Flow? (Cartoon)
By Sarah Lazarovic

Week 3

My Quest to Get My (Hijacked) Brain Back (Audio Story)
By Elizabeth Weingarten

Want to Keep Your New Year’s Tech Resolutions? Embrace Sludge
By Ben Castleman

The 21st Century Skinner Box
By Ronald E. Robertson

The Potential for Human-Computer Interaction and Behavioral Science
By Kweku Opoku-Agyemang

The Psychology of Search Engines (Cartoon)
By Daniel Oppenheimer and Grady Klein

The images for our special issue were created by artist J.K. Rofling. You can view more of his network-inspired art here.