Do you feel creeping tendrils of always-on communications technology closing around your trachea, suffocating your intellect and insidiously rotting the walls of your mind?
If you have problems functioning, focusing and concentrating at work, you can now blame e-mail and other so-called productivity tools for making you stupid.
According to a recent British study, excessive day-to-day use of technology like cellphones, e-mail and instant messaging can be more distracting and harmful to your mental acuity than smoking pot.
The Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London conducted clinical trials with volunteer office workers to measure how a constant flow of messages and information affects a person's ability to focus on problem-solving tasks.
Participants were asked first to work in a quiet environment and then while being inundated with e-mail, instant messaging and phone calls. Although they were told not to respond to messages, researchers found their subjects' attention was significantly disturbed.
Instead of boosting productivity, the constant data stream seriously reduced their ability to focus. The study reported that an average worker's functioning IQ falls 10 points when distracted by ringing telephones and incoming e-mails, more than twice the four-point drop seen following a 2002 Carleton University study on the impact of smoking marijuana.
In the real world, people don't ignore all messages. They make real-time decisions about where to focus each moment they're plugged in. Between phones, e-mail, instant messaging and text messaging, the IQ drop for I.T. workers is likely more analogous to Einstein's brain becoming Elmo's.
Too much data clamours for conscious attention. It all wants to evolve into information and then knowledge. Just deciding what to ignore takes intellectual effort, and, inevitably, quality of work suffers.
Quality of life suffers, too.
The study showed that 62 per cent of adults are literally addicted to checking e-mail and text messages during meetings, in the evening and on weekends.
Half of workers respond to e-mails immediately or within 60 minutes, and one in five people are happy to interrupt a business or social meeting to respond to an e-mail or telephone message within 60 minutes.
The study warns of the abuse of always-on technology and calls this endemic condition info-mania.
"If left unchecked, 'info-mania' will damage workers' performance by reducing their mental sharpness," says Glenn Wilson, the psychiatrist behind the study. "This is a very real and widespread phenomenon."
In the recent book No Time: Stress And The Crisis Of Modern Life (Douglas & McIntyre), Heather Menzies argues that e-mail and text messaging have replaced conversation, that we're losing touch with ourselves and one another.
We're even losing a sense of how to tell when things go wrong and how to take action when they do. The "unbearable lightness of being digital" is something we all need to deal with.
We are free-thinking human beings - even if just for short spurts of time now that the Internet has given us all ADD - and we still have the physical capacity to unplug and go for a walk without our digital leashes (pending GPS implants with two-way radios).
On the other hand, despite info-mania dumbing down users of always-on communications technology, there may be higher-level cognitive advantages to being so connected.
Linda Stone, a former VP of both Microsoft and Apple, coined the term "continuous partial attention" to describe life in the era of constant distraction.
In an interview with INC magazine, Stone says it's crucial to scan incoming alerts for the one best thing to seize upon, and then ask yourself, "How can I tune in in a way that helps me sync up with the most interesting or important opportunity?"
It's an issue of timing, she says, of knowing when to break free from continuous partial attention in order to get your bearings and think a problem through before stepping forward with intention.
Stowe Boyd, president of blogging company Corante, agrees with Stone and maintains in his corporate blog ( www.corante.com ) that info-mania is not fundamentally a problem.
Boyd writes that society needs to "shift the measurement of productivity away from the individual - e.g., IQ tests - and look at the productivity of connected groups. Time in today's world is yet another shared space: your time is truly not your own.
You need to accept interruptions so others can make progress, says Stowe. "It's a form of social altruism" that benefits the collective to the detriment of an individual's productivity.
So whether info-mania is a problem or not depends on the innate levels of greed, ego and selfishness in our work environments.
While e-mail may make us obtuse, it might also be the fountainhead of human progress.