Friday, November 23, 2007

How Do You Measure Mental Focus?

Jacob and I were arguing the other day about whether or not Jacob should spend his own money to buy a Wii. For those of you blessedly ignorant of the gaming console world, the Wii is a loathesome, evil box of devil-spawn that people willingly spend hard-earned money on and invite right into their living rooms to emit death-rays in their direction. At least, that's what I was arguing. Jacob was arguing that it would afford harmless amusement with which to pass a few free hours.

In an effort to make my devil-spawn argument more persuasive, I tried to explain to Jake that if he spent x minutes per day playing video games, he would have x minutes less to do other wholesome, productive things like practice his violin, do his homework, juggle a soccer ball, do our taxes, etc. I also tried to argue that playing video games actually has a deleterious effect on one's ability to concentrate. It actually makes you dumber, in other words. Not having any hard scientific evidence for this readily to hand, I decided I could at least sound scientific, so I posited a new unit of measure: the concetron.

The concetron is a measure of mental focus. "You'll use up concetrons you could be using on something else!" I argued. Jacob was willing to concede this point. "You'll reduce your concetron capacity!" I persisted. This one he was not willing to concede.

Actually, the whole Wii argument was just a casual hypothetical on his part. What he really wants is a laptop someday. However, the idea of the concetron has caught on in our family, and we have since had even more heated discussions trying to determine...

1) How do we define the base unit of 1 concetron? Is it, say, the amount of mental focus required to recite your address? the Gettysburg address?
2) Are there different kinds of concetrons? or can you divide a given activity into a concetron distribution chart? So, to play the piano requires a certain number of concetrons for the physical movements, a certain number for musical expression, etc.
3) If we define concetron capacity as the amount of concetrons one can expend (and is that the right verb?) in a given amount of time, then can certain activities increase or decrease one's concetron capacity? If so, how?

I swear we spent 20 minutes driving in the van one day arguing over this stuff with great passion and not a little rancor.

One thing we agreed on was that we run out of concetrons by the end of the day and have to replenish them through sleep. I plan to use this excuse to avoid helping the kids with homework after 9 p.m. (Sorry! Out of concetrons!)

So if you are a scientifically minded person, and you have suggestions about this, let us know. We're particularly interested in designs for a Star-Trek-prop-style piece of headgear that could measure concetron output.

If, on the other hand, you would like to argue for the benefits of the Wii, get thee behind me.


Nathan said...

Will you hate me if I share this link? I'm not saying I'm convinced! Just intrigued. I now tear my clothes in penance (hmm, drafty in here...)

> 'Playing a video game is, in fact, an exercise in "constructing the proper hierarchy of tasks and moving through the tasks in the correct sequence," he writes. "It's about finding order and meaning in the world, and making decisions that help create that order." '

PhilipWaja said...

I like those dots coming out of the guy's head, but I think they should be green.

Phil Smith said...

Hello Ron:

Not sure how to define your new unit of measure, but here is something to waste a few concentrons on.