Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy

My cell phone quit Saturday. At first I was kind of excited. "Maybe now I'll get the iPhone and not feel guilty about it," I thought. I have wanted an iPhone since they came out last summer. Unfortunately they came out a month after we had inked a two-year contract on our company cell phones. I've been in an Apple store a couple times playing with them, caressing them, loving them, imagining how impressed everyone would be with me when I whipped it out and did something high-techie and spectacular, but never could bring myself to buy one. For one reason, I'm a bit of a cheapskate. You should hear my kids moan when I take them through a fast food restaurant and won't let them get drinks because I refuse to pay a buck fifty for 8 cents worth of syrup and some tap water. They'll be talking about that on a therapist's couch some day, I'm sure. Anyway, I already had a phone, along with a two-year commitment, so I could not justify it.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 25, 2010

My cell phone quit Saturday. At first I was kind of excited. "Maybe now I'll get the iPhone and not feel guilty about it," I thought.

I have wanted an iPhone since they came out last summer. Unfortunately they came out a month after we had inked a two-year contract on our company cell phones.

I've been in an Apple store a couple times playing with them, caressing them, loving them, imagining how impressed everyone would be with me when I whipped it out and did something high-techie and spectacular, but never could bring myself to buy one.

For one reason, I'm a bit of a cheapskate. You should hear my kids moan when I take them through a fast food restaurant and won't let them get drinks because I refuse to pay a buck fifty for 8 cents worth of syrup and some tap water. They'll be talking about that on a therapist's couch some day, I'm sure. Anyway, I already had a phone, along with a two-year commitment, so I could not justify it.

What's more, I decided some time ago that I'm just not a multi-tasker. A person who struggles walking and chewing gum at the same time has no business owning and trying to operate a device that will let you carry on a conversation, check e-mail, order pizza, shoot videos and upload them on YouTube at the same time, all while updating your MySpace page. I'm convinced you'd see the back end of my car sticking out of some Main Street storefront in a matter of days.

I've come to terms with the fact that I'm a bit of a dinosaur. I cannot do two things at once and do either of them remotely well, let alone five or six things.

That's why it was with no small amount of delight that I read an article in a recent issue of The Atlantic about the demise of multitasking. The premise of Walter Kirn's piece, in a nutshell, is that multitasking is dumbing us down as well as driving us nuts.

Kirn relates his struggles (amazingly similar to my own) with trying to take advantage of all that technology offers us and what the manufacturers spend hundreds of millions in advertising telling us we have to take advantage of or else we'll be left in the dust by a new generation of thumb typers who apparently drive with their feet. Further, he notes that scientists are finding that multitasking is actually bad for our health.

"Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways," he reports the scientists finding. "At the most basic level, the mental balancing act that it requires the constant switching and pivoting energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we're supposed to be concentrating on."

"... certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wear down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term they may cause it to atrophy."

No thanks. I'm atrophying quickly enough the natural way. I don't need to be doing anything that's going to speed up the process.

So instead of walking out of the cell phone store with a new iPhone or Blackberry, I opted for the cheapest model they had. My only requirements were that it not have a camera and that it not be able to access the Internet. My sanity is just too precious to mess around with.