I feel like letting my freak flag fly, Cause I feel like I owe it to someone.
—David Crosby, “Almost Cut My Hair”
For years I’ve been “letting my geek flag fly,” but lately I have started to worry about some of my hyper-digital-multi-tasking habits.
Especially when I look up from my side-by-side computer monitors to notice my son on the other side of the room. Via cell phone, he is texting his friends and sharing selfies on Instagram. With his laptop, he’s putting the finishing touches on his history essay (on Google Drive), participating in a physics study group with his classmates (on Skype), checking his NFL fantasy football standings and watching an episode of “Community” (on Hulu) that he has seen at least a dozen times.
It’s a good thing he’s wearing those puffy purple headphones as he zooms through his after-school routine. Otherwise, Bruce Springsteen’s gravelly voice blasting from my Spotify might distract him.
But I digress…which is what commonly happens when I’m trying to accomplish a half-dozen different tasks at once. Who has time to do just one thing? That would seem counterproductive. At the mall, I’m standing in line pecking at my phone, searching Groupon for a digital discount I can show the cashier when it’s my turn at the register. Waiting at the dentist’s office, I pull out my tablet to catch up on TED talks and “Walking Dead” conspiracy theories.
After all these years, I’ve conditioned my brain to digital multi-tasking so well that I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gained in the process…and what I’ve lost.
Remember HAL, the supercomputer with the unnervingly calm voice in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? Sometimes I think we’re all turning into mini-HALs. At least I know I’m getting close. My neurons aren’t just sparking, they’re whirring! Uploading, downloading, buffering, unpacking data, dumping temporary files; all the terms we associate with our computers now make sense in my daily life (even in my dreams—and yes, I know that’s probably unhealthy).
I’ve read the statistics about how our digital obsession is morphing our concept of what’s normal into something, well…not very normal. Or if you prefer, the “new normal.” I read Nicholas Carr’s startling piece titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in The Atlantic several years ago. And last month I saved Richard Thiessen’s blog What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains on my phone so that I can read it more deeply when the mood hits.
If only I had time for that.
by Donna Giachetti