Researchers now say that the stress of not being able to process information as fast as it arrives – combined with the personal and social expectation that, say, you will answer every email – can deplete and demoralise you. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and expert on attention-deficit disorders, argues that the modern workplace induces what he calls "attention deficit trait", with characteristics similar to those of the genetically based disorder. Author Linda Stone, who coined the term "continuous partial attention" to describe the mental state of today's knowledge workers, says she's now noticing – get this – "email apnea": the unconscious suspension of regular and steady breathing when you tackle your email.
There are even claims that the relentless cascade of information lowers people's intelligence. A few years ago, a study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard reported that the IQ scores of knowledge workers distracted by email and phone calls fell from their normal level by an average of 10 points – twice the decline recorded for those smoking marijuana, several commentators wryly noted.