Driven to distraction by technology

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Sci/Tech

The typical office worker is interrupted every three minutes by a phone call, e-mail, instant message or other distraction. The problem is that it takes about eight uninterrupted minutes for our brains to get into a really creative state.

The result, says Carl Honore, journalist and author of "In Praise of Slowness," is a situation where the digital communications that were supposed to make working lives run more smoothly are actually preventing people from getting critical tasks accomplished.

Honore, who cited the estimate of an interruption every three minutes, acknowledges that he would not part with his laptop or phone. But he adds that "it's possible to get too much of a good thing. As a society, that's where we are at the moment."

Microsoft, which created much of the software that allows for instant interruptions, such as the alerts that pop up with each new e-mail, is aware of the problem.

"It used to be: 'I've got to be online, it's so frustrating that I can't get on,'" said Chris Capossela, a vice president in Microsoft's Information Worker unit. "Now that's happened. People are ultraconnected. And you know what? Now they are starting to realize, 'Wow, I want to actually stop getting interrupted.'"

For years, technology has worked to get people more connected. In the office there's e-mail, instant messages and the phone. On the road, cell phones and BlackBerrys enable workers to stay in touch with colleagues.

There is a mini rebellion under way, however. Desperate for some quiet time to think, people are coming up with low-tech strategies to get away from all their technology. That has Microsoft and others taking note and looking for ways to create software that can be more adept at preventing interruptions.

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