I had intended to write a column about the anti-vaccinators shoving their children into a time capsule back to the 1800s, but I realized I have a word count and can’t just write “stupid” 600 times.
Instead, I will use this space to try to understand the way my brain is morphing because of technology. I do not have Attention Deficit Disorder. I never have. And yet, I can’t focus anymore. I open a multitude of windows on my computer, which I could explain away as research except, it’s not always the case. I fall down rabbit holes; one search leads to another.
I was perusing a favourite website, Atlas Obscura, and found a German structure that reminded me of Stonehenge, so of course I needed to check out Stonehenge, and wonder how old it really was and whether aliens built it and thought I better check on crop circles while I was at it, and because I was contemplating mysteries I thought I’d better see if anyone had solved the Jack the Ripper case yet, and of course they hadn’t but that reminded me the show Sherlock is quite good but I remembered I wanted to check out why Dr. Watson looked so familiar, and I was right! He was the naked guy in Love Actually!
I use my laptop to watch television and stream movies. Beside me, I have my iPad so I can look up actors and writers and trivia about what I’m watching. No more calling a sister to put me out of my misery when I can’t place a face, no more wondering if Jack Palance is dead or alive. Because there is no such thing as “we interrupt this show to bring you this important announcement” I have Twitter open to let me know if the world ends. I don’t call it “what’s on,” I call it “what else is on”.
My focus is splintered. It never used to be. I’d sit and read a hard copy of a newspaper (or three) every day, absorbing not only headlines and sections I preferred, but all of it. I’d take civil wars along with hockey scores, rapes and recipes and buses plunging off cliffs. Where I would crawl through the news absorbing every bump and motion, I now flit like a bird drawn to shiny things, or worse, things others have declared shiny.
The upside is having world news at my fingertips. The downside is having world news at my fingertips. It’s worrisome knowing how computer algorithms work, knowing that things are dangled in front of me based on how similar they are to things I’ve already read. It’s planting seeds to form my own personal groupthink; if what I believe to be right is only bolstered and never questioned, I risk burrowing deep into ideas that comfort me instead of those that challenge me.
Order a pair of boots on line, and prepare to be offered more boots every time you log on. It’s intensified as websites seek to nail down advertising dollars and target clicks as precisely as a sniper looking through his crosshairs. The internet is the Sirens luring our attention spans onto the rocks.
Some say our attentions spans have been shortened; others say every generation says that about the next. I don’t know how they measure such things, but I’ll tell you this for free: the only way I can focus is to shut down the seemingly innumerable alleyways to information that carpet bomb me as I work.
Multitasking, you say? That’s just doing a lot of things badly at the same time.