Information Work … How Depressing

October 10, 2007 at 3:55 pm | Posted in Fun, Information Work | 1 Comment

I was reading an article in last week’s Economist (Clinical depression | Something in the way he moves) when the behavior they described sounded vaguely familiar:

Dr Yamamoto collected the data for his own particular power-law curves by fitting his experimental subjects—about half of whom were healthy, and half of whom had been diagnosed as having clinical (or “major”) depression—with accelerometers. These devices measure how often someone changes his rate of movement by recording each time his acceleration exceeds a certain threshold.

The basic results confirmed a known feature of depressed people. The normal daily rhythm that would lead to a high, steady number of counts during daylight hours and low counts during the night was replaced by occasional bursts of activity. The surprise came when the team started plotting their results out on graphs.

The curves produced by plotting the lengths of low-activity periods against their frequency were strikingly different in healthy and depressed people. This reflects not inactivity by the depressed (though they were, indeed, less active) but a difference in the way that the healthy and the depressed spread their resting periods over the day. Depressed people experience longer resting periods more frequently and shorter ones less frequently than healthy people do.

Hmmm. People who show no movement for most of the day except for brief bursts of activity … sounds like me and every other information worker I know! While I might consider a day where I write 10 pages of a report and handle 75 emails as very productive, I’m sure an accelerometer (I’m assuming from the name it measures acceleration, not flailing fingers) would say I hadn’t moved for hours. My long bouts of inactivity would be punctuated by a flurry of activity in the morning and mid-evening (hopefully with some tennis or a bike ride), another bout of inactivity (as I hit the computer for a few more hours of work or reading), dinnertime activity (lots of acceleration if I’m cooking, which often includes a mad dash to unplug the smoke alarm), then rest again.

So does that mean the activity patterns of information workers mirror those of clinically depressed people? I doubt it. It’s probably a coincidence that wouldn’t be borne out by measuring brain activity (which has also been shown to reflect clinical depression). Maybe the study accounted for this, but I can’t tell since my searching wasn’t able to uncover the original article. Still, I’ve been looking for an excuse to get me out of my seat more during the day and this might be just the ticket.

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1 Comment »

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  1. Great justification. I love to see clearly Marcy


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