It’s hard to think of any one moment where I’m not juggling three or more things at once. I walk down the sidewalk while texting, drinking coffee, navigating streets driven by cab-drivers who have never heard the word “pedestrian.” The world we inhabit, it seems, demands that every person be doing something while doing something else while doing one more something else.
To an extent, I think, we need all these asinine tasks because without the multitude of distractions we might curl up and die from our own unimpeded, undistracted, thoughts about how much human life is a mere pit-stain on the sleeve of the milky-way.
All that aside, according to cognitive researchers, we are not multitasking, ever. We are merely switching from one venture to another in rapid sequence—text to phone to TV to Facebook, etc—putting ourselves, mainly our brains, in a frenzied state of information overload. On top of that, the information itself occupying our headspace: a tweet, a Facebook notification, another Buzzfeed Cat list email, is a bunch of trash.
Below is a list of the devastating effects of our 21st century world’s tendency to “multitask.”
1. Increased Stress
Switching back and forth from email to twitter to Facebook to TV to phone increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, along with adrenaline, which is present in the fight-or-flight response. This hormonal release over stimulates the brain leaving us in a confused state marked by “brain-fog” and confusion. These chemical-hormones release while we are sitting at our desk staring at screens. There is no stimulus to fight or flight from. What happens is we become enveloped in a maelstrom of anxiousness and worry, unexpended energy, over an excess of “information,” or also known as I don’t know, just looked on my Facebook feed and saw an ad for: Charka Energy Yoga-mats.
There you have it. Yoga-mat’s stressing me out.
2. It literally makes you dumb
A 2005 study called Info-Mania conducted by psychologist Glenn Wilson bombarded participants with technological noise like emails and phone calls while they took an IQ test. The distracted group saw a 10-point drop in IQ scores, more than double that found in studies on the impairments that stem from smoking a lot pot.
3. Can cause addiction
Multitasking can create what researchers call a dopamine-addiction feedback loop. With every email sent, tweet composed, and Facebook notification received, there is a little reward whispering in our brains pleasure center: the nucleus accumbens. In our brains we have internal, pain-relieving systems that release chemicals, similar to ingredients active in heroin. And that is why clicking refresh feels so damn good. Instead of staying on task, which might be boring or unrewarding, we will constantly seek these little bursts of reward. This is a dopamine-addiction feedback loop: check your email, Twitter, and Facebook 200 times, sequentially, refresh, refresh, skip from click-to-click-to-click-and on ad infinitum.
With texting addiction can really flourish by an added social expectation that an ignored text feels insulting. You now receive a text that you’ve been waiting for and once again a little burst of pleasure flutters for a microsecond and you feel great as evidenced by that smirk you try to hide while your squeeze, in public, sends you a text about not-so-public-stuff.
Speaking of which, people jack off at work to pornography accessed via their phones, which is an entirely other kind of addiction worthy of its own essay.
Our brain feeds on oxygenated glucose, in order to perform its duty of keeping our body’s mechanistic clockwork going. As we shift from one task to the next, over and over again, we exhaust our levels of glucose. It gets eaten up. The eventual depletion of our brains food contributes to both cognitive and physical impairments, similar to those mentioned earlier like anxiety, stress, aggression, and impulsive behavior.
But if we stay one task we use up less energy and nutrients and preform better so it is wise to do that one task with tact than a thousand tasks like a headless roadrunner.
5. Make bad decisions
In conjunction with our brain being exhausted, there is a psychological phenomenon called “decision fatigue,” characterized by a loss of quality in the decisions that we make after being faced with long sessions of decision-making. Every email, every text, every click, requires several follow-up decisions. Do I reply now? Later? If now, what do I say? If later, how will I remind myself? Is it rude to leave the sender hanging?
Now, these small decisions are not important in the scheme of things but the logic follows that, after we make several hundred banal decisions it is likely our ability to make solid decisions on things that matter will diminish. This reminds of the time I ordered a hamburger at the “best Philly cheese steak joint in the world.” Just a bad decision. Burger was decent.
6. Forget that you are a human being and not a bag of meat who juggles tasks
Aristotle said something to the effect that humans are bipeds who have reason. Today, humans are bipeds who have two thumbs and a shit-vocabulary. If it coudlnt’ get worse, we are on a trend toward email being replaced by text-messaging and text message boxes. So what will this do to the way communicate? No one wants to compose with his or her thumbs long, thoughtfully constructed responses while listening to music, drinking coffee, eating a cro-nut.
The intimacy of letter writing days is long in the past. But soon I’ll say, Gee-whiz, it would be nice if my whippersnappers sent me an email every once in a while like in the good ole days. And by this time, some years from now, text messages will become coded in some kind of mutated emoji that pops out of my black mirror to speak the words and mimic the facial-expression according to what is being texted, rendering human communication to be a malignantly useless trope.
P.S. I composed this list while I made baked lemon-pepper chicken. Thanks Mom, for texting me the recipe.