Multitasking Rots Your Brains

Playing online chess is like trying to get Wii Tennis to suffice for real tennis. You simply can’t digitally recreate the palpable exchange of energy with a live opponent in chess or tennis, as much as a shared physical space only seems a requisite for the sport and not the Eternal Game. (Give it time though… complete virtual reality sports with remote opponents will be quotidian soon enough.)

Beautiful female robot with computer mouseThe simulacra of social interactions that we enjoy online are stunting real relational and conversational skills.

I touched on this in Episode 25 of The Digital Dive Podcast (see 12-minute mark). We thrive off social interaction. Each transaction — from exchanging a greeting in an elevator to chatting at a coffee shop to flipping the bird in a fit of road rage, is a little rally, a serve, a distracted miss. The physiological feedback we get from connecting through technology (social media in particular) creates an addictive dopamine reward system in the brain.

We are bathing in these transactions, but they’re not happening in proximity to our bodies. So exactly what true energy are we processing? Tech addiction (i.e., checking habits) can cause a host of problems, including a loss of normal socialization skills. Something is lost when relational transactions occur primarily digitally. We’re breathing ether. I’ve tried to tweet a smell, it’s getting so bad.

Multitasking is Just Stuff

We should not assume that the quantity of available matches, so to speak, makes up for lost quality. You can’t multitask while playing chess or tennis. Finishing a live game satisfies a deep need for connection, competition, and stimulation. In play, we’re exchanging raw energy, we’re focused and mindful. You cannot be in positive psychology’s beloved zone (feeling flow) while watching TV, eating, texting, and Candy Crushing.

business man and woman multitasking acrobaticsSure, you can multitask continually throughout the day and imagine you are adequately returning simultaneous serves, nailing forehands, and setting up tidy gambits with your network, coworkers, clients, family, and friends as you tap and click, fire off emails, Facebook updates, texts, reblogs and Likes. But it’s fragmented. You aren’t focused. As Lester Burnham said, “This isn’t life, it’s just stuff!”  (- American Beauty)

Since I doubt many of us are willing to give up our technology, whenever possible, let’s return to the simple purity of focusing on just one task at a time. Read more books and fewer articles. The end game will be a disappointment otherwise.

Chess quiz – White to move and mate in 2 moves:

chess problem

Alain White, American Chess Bulletin, November-December 1941. Solution

Original chess move challenge posted 8/23/10, post updated 1/28/17

How To Turn On Google Chrome Voice Search

The problem: You are trying to enable Google Chrome Voice Search but you are not being prompted to grant Google permission to your microphone.

illustration retro woman speaking in speech bubble

The solution: You need to adjust your Chrome settings and/or Adobe Flash Global Privacy Settings. At one point you may have denied Google access to the mic and the settings saved, never to ask again. When you click the microphone icon on the Google Chrome search bar at google.com, you see a link to Learn More, instead of being prompted to Allow or Deny permission (because you already denied it). On Chrome for Mac you’ll see “Voice search has been turned off. Details”

Google Chrome Voice Search searchbar microphone icon

Clicking on “Details” on Mac or “Learn More” on Windows 7 takes you to a page entitled “Voice search and voice actions on Chrome” where you can read about how great Voice Search is and how to enable Ok Google but there is no information about turning the mic on/allowing permission. How do you adjust your permission settings for the microphone in Google Chrome? 

Enter chrome://settings/ in your omnibox. Click Advanced Settings. Under Privacy, click Content Settings.

You’ll see these options on Windows (similar on Mac):

Google-Chrome-Content-settings-Media-camera-AdobeSelect “Ask me when a site requires access to my camera and microphone (recommended).” Click on Manage Exceptions. You may see some entries for Hostname pattern and Behavior. If you see the Hostname https://www.google.com:443 you will want the Audio to be set to “Allow.” If it says block, simply highlight this row and click the X to delete it. Then Google will ask for permission to access the mic when you return to google.com and click the microphone icon to use Voice Search. The problem should be solved now.

However, if it says “Allow” here and you are still having issues, just click on the URL to highlight it, then click the X to delete it. We’ll try and reset the process. If you see no entries for Hostnames here and are unable to type any in manually, that is also okay. Let’s make sure you don’t have any settings in Adobe that are at play:

After you’ve clicked Manage Exceptions, at the bottom, click the “Change” link in: “Adobe Flash Player camera and microphone exceptions are different. Change” and you will end up at Adobe Flash Player Global Privacy Settings: http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager02.html. (Note: it does not matter if you’re logged into Adobe.)

Look for Google in the list of website settings. Delete it. Now you should have no settings regarding Google Chrome in your Chrome Settings or Adobe Flash Player: try to click the mic at google.com again. You should see Allow or Deny pop up.

You’ll find the basic instructions about setup and voice search examples on the Chrome voice search information page (but this page does not allow you to adjust the permission settings and the troubleshooting section doesn’t touch on Adobe). If you have problems after managing the Adobe settings though, the troubleshooting tips there could help.

I’m a fan of any technology that helps us get away from typing.

Standing Desk Product Reviews: Desks, Mats, Socks (Part 2)

Why you should get a standing desk (Part 1).

Standing Desk Product Recommendations:

1) Desk: I have the adjustable height Dual Kangaroo from Ergo Desktop ($599) – made in USA. There are dozens of brands and types of desks out there. When narrowing down my choices in February 2013, I considered the Ergotron Workfit which is a mount, but in the end I chose the more portable Kangaroo, which sits on top of my regular desk. It required less hardware and work/drilling holes in the wall.

Emily Binder at Dual Kangaroo standing desk
I’ve adopted my own yogilates pose over time with one leg bent at the knee resting on the desk. I switch legs about every five minutes. Just keep your spine straight and the rest will follow.

The Dual Kangaroo is great for a laptop and monitor setup or for two monitors. Be sure to use the included stability leg to reduce wobbling. (The attentive Ergo Desktop customer care team actually tweeted me this tip after noticing this picture I posted of the desk sans leg.) The obvious benefit of an adjustable height desk is that it allows for postural changes throughout the day. There are times you’ll want to sit – that’s okay. I rarely lower my desk but it’s nice to have the option.

Kangaroo and similar brands like VARIDESK, UpLift and Ergo Depot have models for different laptop/computer combinations. thehumansolution.com has a good selection of well-priced desks and free shipping over $85. (The Human Solution also accepts BitCoin because they are awesome.) A coworker recently ordered the Kangaroo Pro (mount style) for a single monitor (the Pro Junior is good for smaller monitors) – well done, RD! Some Kangaroo desks use VESA mounts for your monitor while others use shelves (what I have and prefer for its flexibility).

  • Explanation of the differences
  • Tool to assist with measurements for your standing desk
  • Tammy Coron at creativebloq has more tips about measuring and posture

A few more standing desk recommendations if the Kangaroo line is not for you:

a. Electric adjustable desk: The UpLift 900 ($769) has received excellent reviews (LA Times). Lifehacker named it the #1 standing desk (check out Lifehacker’s February 2014 top five standing desks – if you order one off this list, you’ll be set). “If you want a standard size desk with brilliant height adjustability, the UpLift 900 is perfect for you.” The motor allows easy switching between sitting and standing. See video reviews of the UpLift 900.

b. Walking desk/treadmill desk: Check out the TrekDesk ($549 as of 10/26/16):

You can burn an extra 2.6-3.6 calories per minute depending on incline (156-216 extra per hour). I’ve read that your typed WPM decreases as walking speed increases, and Business Insider‘s Alyson Shontell reports that her treadmill desk experiment decreased productivity due to dividing attention across work and physical movement (but she ultimately had fairly positive takeaways). If you are a klutz and multitasker, walking while working could be problematic. I like the idea of it overall though. Read Danny Sullivan’s treadmill desk review. Sullivan uses the LifeSpan desk, specifically the TR1200-DT7.

c. Light duty electric desk: If you work from a laptop and only need the standing desk for a few hours a day: Ergo Depot AD17 Adjustable Height Desk (normally $749, on sale for $549 at time of this posting)

d. DIY: The famous $22 Ikea standing desk: The Standesk 2200.
Also check out Anjelika Temple’s creative suggestions on Brit + Co: ten DIY standing desk ideas. This includes a nicer but still affordable Ikea solution: The Floating Corner Desk (from $178).

e. (Pretty) affordable height adjustable monitor stand and keyboard tray: VARIDESK Pro ($300)

keyboard and monitor height diagram for standing desk postureTry it first! Note: Please experiment with a DIY standing desk for at least two months before purchasing furniture. Try using cardboard boxes and old yellow page phone books or paper reams to prop up your monitor, keyboard and mouse at proper ergonomic height on top of your existing desk. It will be ugly but it’s for testing. Make sure you can commit to this lifestyle.

2) Anti-Fatigue Floor Mat for standing desk: A good, thick, high-quality shock-absorbent floor mat is crucial. You spend most of your life at work (and soon, on your feet). Invest in your health and comfort. I have been quite pleased with the $75 Rhino Mat Pyra-Mat Anti Fatigue Mat (free shipping at Ergo Depot). Don’t skimp on the floor mat, and don’t venture into standing without one. Read the fine print: you should have a sponge thickness at least 3/4-7/8″ thick (1/2″ won’t cut it). The mat I have comes with optional custom logos. If you’re a manager and have employees who stand all day (e.g., at a service desk or counter) surprise them with these mats and you will be amazed at their gratitude and improved morale.

Update 10/26/16: Read my review of Ergodriven’s Topo mat, inspired by natural terrain and meant to keep you moving as you stand.
Continue reading Standing Desk Product Reviews: Desks, Mats, Socks (Part 2)

Three Reasons a Standing Desk Will Save Your Life (Part 1)

The average American adult sits 15.5 hours per day.I’ve had a standing desk for almost a year and half and I plan to keep it that way. Many people don’t realize that it’s not just how much physical activity you get, but also how much time you spend sitting that can affect your risk of premature death.

 A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society found that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37% more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than three hours, while the early-death rate for men was 18% higher. 3

Emily Binder at standing desk
Standing at my adjustable height desk, doing marketing.

I could write pages about the frightening negative health outcomes associated with sedentary lifestyles. Just check out Lifehacker’s “How Sitting Is Killing You” Infographic. If Americans would cut their sitting time in half, their life expectancy would increase by roughly:

  • 2 years (by reducing sitting to less than 3 hours a day)
  • 1.4 years (by reducing TV time to less than 2 hours a day) 4

Many great thinkers throughout history stood at their desks, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Virginia Woolfe, and Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway at his standing desk Life Magazine cover 1960
“Ernest Hemingway at his standing writing desk on the balcony of Bill Davis’s home near Malaga where he wrote The Dangerous Summer.” — Life Magazine, Jan. 1, 1960

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware of the myriad reasons why you should do everything in your power to get a standing desk, but maybe you haven’t taken the leap yet. I’ll make it simple and give you the top three reasons. Here are my favorite standing desk product reviews and recommendations. If sedentary office workers would stand up for a mere few hours more per day, I’d bet the farm that over several years, our entire country would be healthier and we would save billions on healthcare costs.

Lazy

You may work at a progressive office where standing desks are an option (like Google, Facebook, AOL, many startups, etc.). Maybe you see coworkers standing all day and marvel at them, wondering why anyone would torture themselves with unnecessary physical exertion and not take the easy route of sitting on a plush Herman Miller (or a cheap Staples chair wreaking havoc on your spine) for 8+ hours in a row. Well, either you’ve never tried standing, or you’re lazy. Office worker eating sitting at desk in cubicleIt’s okay – most people in the modern world are pretty lazy.

Let Michael Caine playing Robert Spritzel in The Weather Man ask you something: “Do you know that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing? Nothing that has meaning is easy. ‘Easy’ doesn’t enter into grown-up life.” 

Three reasons a standing desk will save your life and make you more productive:

1. PREVENT CANCER: Prolonged sitting increases the risk for cancer. Exercise does not undo the deleterious physical effects of a sedentary lifestyle: working out does not erase the compounding of growing fat cells in your rear, the slowing of your metabolism, or the diabetic state that your blood glucose quickly transitions into when the body has been sitting for hours. “Researchers say that physical activity, even something as simple as standing up for a few minutes, releases an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which reduces the body’s levels of triglycerides and LDL (or bad) cholesterol. High triglyceride levels are linked to cancer, and LDL cholesterol is associated with vascular disease. Prolonged sitting precludes the flow of the enzyme.”2
Big rear end sitting in small chairWait, let’s reiterate this part: “Pressure placed in the buttocks and hips from sitting down for too long can generate up to 50 percent more fat in those areas.” 5

2.  PREVENT WEIGHT GAIN, KEEP METABOLISM UP: “Right after you sit down, the electrical activity in your muscles slows down and your calorie-burning rate drops to one calorie per minute.” You will burn an additional average 50 calories per hour simply by standing instead of sitting. If you stand for just half the day, that’s 200 free calories burned. We can at least mollify the fact that many of us eat unnaturally and too many calories by keeping more muscles in the body engaged for more hours of the day.

3. PHYSIOLOGY and PSYCHOLOGY – FEELING AND INTERACTING LIKE A BETTER HUMAN: You’ve read about the benefits of walking meetings (Steve Jobs was famous for them). Movement is good for the body and soul. A 20-minute walk in the middle of the workday has a remarkable positive impact on brain function.

Brain scan after sitting quietly and after walking 20 minutes

Standing is a lot closer to walking than sitting is, plus you’ll be more likely to move around. Coworkers who are standing are perceived as more open and approachable, with a tendency to more actively share ideas. This is anecdotal, but I feel more awake, more productive, and more energized throughout the day, which many others standers report, too. Sitting allowed me to marinate in workday lethargy, but standing wakes me up. Sitting encourages poor posture. Our bodies were not made to sit.
Think about all the crutches we use to wake ourselves up or to focus: coffee, a cigarette break, a jaunt of web surfing or online shopping, constant phone checking habits… Stand up and wake up. Increased bloodflow throughout the body will make you more positive, productive, and focused.

Office Reality and Your DIY Trial Period:

Unfortunately, many offices haven’t made ergonomics a priority yet. If you want to try standing, opt for a trial period with a free/inexpensive DIY setup – stack some yellow page phone books, paper reams, and/or cardboard boxes, then put your keyboard (elbows bent at 90 degrees) and monitor (eye level, no neck craning up or down) on top. Hear The Digital Dive Podcast episode on the DIY standing desk when Melanie first planted the seed in my head. Get used to standing by starting out with a couple hours per day and adding 30-minute increments each day. If you like it and you make it two months, then invest in some furniture. I was pretty psyched when I rewarded myself with the real thing.

I am lucky to work in an environment where I have an office with a door, mitigating the self-consciousness or unwanted attention that some new standers may fear in a cubicle setting. Seeing you standing will make some people uncomfortable, nervous, or defensive because of what it implies about sitting. Just smile and link them to any article cited in this post. In Part 2, I share my top three ergonomic desk product recommendations, including my own Kangaroo standing desk, my anti-fatigue floor mat, and two types of compression socks to help prevent varicose veins (which can happen from standing OR sitting too long over time).

Read product reviews of my favorite standing desk products:

Here’s to your health and productivity.

Sources:

  1. American Institute For Cancer Research – Cancer Experts Link Almost 100,000 U.S. Cancer Cases to Inactivity and Prolonged Sitting, 10/31/11
  2. American Cancer Society Press Releases – Study Links More Time Spent Sitting to Higher Risk of Death
  3. Are you sitting down? Cancer fears may alter the sedentary job. 3/8/12
  4. Mayo Clinic: Nutrition-wise blog: Do you have ‘sitting disease’? 7/25/12
  5. Guess What? Sitting Does Make You Fat. ABC News. 12/5/11

DISCLAIMER: I am not a trained healthcare professional. The information provided here is meant to educate and inform but is not official medical advice. Consult your physician before making any major lifestyle changes. The opinions shared here are mine and not those of my employer.

Updated 2/16/2017

Health Risks of Cell Phones – Interview: Dr. Carrie Madej. The Digital Dive Podcast – Episode 30

I interviewed Dr. Carrie Madej, Medical Director of the Phoenix Medical Group of Georgia, about the health risks associated with cell phones. The Digital Dive Podcast first explored Smartphone Addiction in Ep. 28 (we discussed social etiquette for smartphones, widespread impact of mobile technology on society, and some health concerns).

 

coffee cup and woman holding cell phoneI invited Dr. Madej on the podcast to get her expert opinion on cell phone safety research, manufacturer and FCC testing, and what the medical community thinks about whether cell phones cause cancer. Hear what you can do to limit the potentially negative physical impacts of our wireless devices.  Continue reading Health Risks of Cell Phones – Interview: Dr. Carrie Madej. The Digital Dive Podcast – Episode 30

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