Diagnosis: Chronic Infomania

So, this thought-train started up earlier this afternoon when I was trying to get some serious work-stuffs done. I need to study for the GRE, get headway on three different tasks for work, and dedicate time to paintings I promised to people months ago. (And here I thought being stressed during weekends ended with receiving that ol’ diploma tube in the mail. False.) But before getting started on any of these projects, I have to stop and think about how I’m going to spend my day. This requires mentally organizing tasks into functional categories: does this one require computer/internet? Can I do it at the same time as something that doesn’t? Can I do it outside? How can I mix-match-multitask my way into the most efficient use of my time?

For example:
Painting (+1) while watching Java tutorial on computer(+1).
Painting requires that I stay inside at home -> Home means I don’t have to wear clothes (+1) but I don’t get stable internet (-1).

Making GRE flashcards (+1) while downloading abstracts of relevant experiments (+1) at Coffeegroundz (internet (=chat + email + PubMed) + being outside= +4).

Maybe it was the more-than-decent amount of coffee in my system, but for the first time in quite a while I actually started listening in on myself ticking through iterations. Making these pro/con lists of combinations isn’t something you do consciously; years of practice (and probably procrastination) have made the process automatic. So I paused a minute… when did this happen? All we’ve ever been taught about attention and memory is that focus and critical thinking are the best ways to absorb information. So when did I start equating multitasking with productivity?

Oddly enough, I do remember the first time I thought about it. The first time I became aware of how technology has affected our ability to focus on work. It was sometime late middle school and I was doing homework on our family computer- probably writing an essay of some kind- when my mom walked in to check up on my progress. She asked how I was doing. I said fine. Then she starting laughing and asked how I could possibly be getting anything done. This caught me off guard… I was just doing work as usual. A Microsoft Word document was open in one corner of the screen with snippets of paragraphs scattered across an otherwise empty page and three or four IE windows were haphazardly sized and stacked in the remaining desktop space. The taskbar was lit up by intermittent blinks from a handful of minimized AIM windows and the physical desktop of our office workspace was littered with looseleaf notes and open binders. I cupped my hand over the base of our landline phone (I had been chatting with a friend from New York) and answered “I dunno, I just do.” Which is the truth. I’d never really questioned a workflow that came so naturally…but when you see it from an observer’s perspective it makes absolutely no sense.
Somewhere along the way, this ability to do-lotsa-things-at-once turned into an compulsion to do-lotsa-things-at-once. Otherwise, you get bored or feel like you’re wasting time. Go ahead, try to focus. Before you know it, a thought reminds you of that other thing you’re supposed to do so you look it up on Google or Wikipedia which reminds you to check that one thing on Facebook or Gmail and then you’re drowning in a sea of tabs and programs and uncompleted thoughts.
We’re a bunch of infomaniacs and it’s sort of a problem (’cause I wasted my afternoon writing about this instead of whateverthehell else I was supposed to be doing. Meh.)
I wish I had some fun conclusive moral to this rambling. But I don’t. Of course. and that’s the whole point. Here, have some relevant links:
Chuck & Beans comic: Life Before Google.

Other countries say ADHD is very culture-bound: at best, overdiagnosed in the US. At worst, a phenomenon we made up to describe flighty state of mind.
And of course, the kickass Currrent Show: InfoMania

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