Can technology suck your brain dry?

Man vs. Machine with Jim Donahue & John Demand

Jim Donahue and my good friend John Demand have put together a great series at Police One called Man vs. Machine. In their latest article Can technology suck your brain dry? In this article they explore  technology and whether or not the quest for more information can actually put you in a state of situational unawareness? There is a balance we must seek between Information Technology and the human capacity to gather, store and analyze and then focus our efforts on the task(s) at hand. In this balance we must seek to resist distractions and stay situationally aware!

There is a recent trend in the law enforcement and security community, evidenced by laptops in patrol cars and the proliferation of smart phones that provide internet and social networking website access (such as Twitter and Facebook) used by agencies to gather more relevant data to improve on the ground decision making. But is this a good way to go? Are we approaching a point in which there is simply too much data supplied to the front line operative to permit critical decision making? Are we approaching the clichéd ‘paralysis of analysis’?

Can too much information can cause our brains to shut down and fail to respond accordingly? Trying to answer, every possible question, until we find explicit understanding, and the optimum solution, in the complex world of violence, is not strategically or tactically sound, operational art. I know this goes against the grain of how we normally think, but we must remember what it is we do and its complex nature. Operational art required here is in our ability to gather information and mange it correctly on the fly and extract understanding that leads to effective action. Does too much info distract us to the point of actually being unaware?

Constant interruptions are okay if you’re the one causing them — not so much if you’re on the receiving end

Recently, there’s been an increase in discussion on the concept of situational awareness (SA) — or, more specifically, discussion around its evil twin, distraction. Often, the object of our distraction is some new techno-gizmo, and equally often, a person doing something really stupid.

…The difference with situational awareness is that you may not realize you’ve lost it until your life or the life of another is in grave danger. Many of the technological devices being used today have the power to suck your mind from what it should be focused on, leaving you situationally unaware.

These devices SUCK, as in:


As in, these devices can kill you when you use them.

Can our craving for more information actual create jeopardy for officers? To be effective we must understand the differences in information, the time verses risk factor and how they relate to decisions we make. Like the shooting debate, is precision sighted shooting the best method or is it close quarter battle point shooting? The answer lies in our knowledge and ability to apply both based on the circumstances. When it comes to decision making, the devil is in the details sometimes…and sometimes not!

Action depends upon understanding” and understanding comes from harnessing our senses and searching for an answer as to what’s going on. We analyze a situation searching for its meaning that will allow us to make decisions. Is getting lost in the computer, blackberry, phone, IPAD etc and adding more details the same as expanding understanding of the situation at hand or is it adding more confusion? Think about the days when just putting your head down to write a citation could get you caught by surprise by a by-stander looking for directions or worse a ticked off driver standing at your door with a more sinister motive? Obviously there is a balance we should seek that stems around keeping a smooth running observation-orientation-decision and action cycles. In the article Jim and John offer some ways to prepare for and prevent distractions from the IT world. 

You’ve heard it a hundred times: Train the way you fight because you will fight the way you’ve trained. Right on. Technology gadgets have no guaranteed place in your life. Period. I’ve already been much happier that I can make a phone call than I am when I receive one. You, too? I suspect so.Devise a plan that fits you. If you’re like me, you already have one started.

  • When I’m walking into church, I automatically set my pocket computer/phone/widget to vibrate.
  • When I go to the gym, the gym gear goes on. The cell phone comes off. It stays in the locker. I refuse to surrender my gym time to someone else’s beckoning call.
  • On the rare occasion that my wife responds positively to my amorous advances, you can bet your backside that the rest of the world can standby.

When working and finding the natives are at rest, texting, talking, or checking out Facebook can be a great diversion. However, when you’ve just notified dispatch that a vehicle refuses to stop and you have commenced a pursuit is not the time to dabble with the gadgetry.

Make sure you read Can Technology Suck Your Brain Dry? 

Stay Oriented!