I have been pondering slowness as of late. And I very much like the idea of it. But what does it actually look like to live slow? And how can I live a slower life when all around me things demand my attention, demand to be started and finished and started all over again?
In my writing class at uni the other day, we read an article about multitasking, and to say that it was frighteningly real for me would be an understatement. In all my recent thinking about slow living and the ever-quickening pace of modern life, I have never been so clearly convicted of my addiction to what is fast and instantly gratifying.
It seems I cannot resist the tantalising idea of multitasking. And where does this addiction manifest itself most obviously in my life? Well, on the internet of course; that never-ending nebulous of bits and bobs and informative stuff that exists somewhere and everywhere all at once. I wonder, are we ever not connected? Are our fingers forever doomed to caress cold, hard screens?
With so many devices, networks, platforms and connections, the not-so-humble interwebs has infiltrated almost every aspect of la vie quotidienne.
Sometimes I like that.
A lot of times I don’t.
My brain, perhaps like yours, seems to very closely mirror the state of my web browser: countless tabs that are always open, numerous topics and interests to be explored, questions to reply to and conversations to engage in, persistent and pestering notifications, witty quotes I must remember, memories, notes, queries and answers, photos to be uploaded, comments to which I must respond, blog posts I must write. And while I hasten to admit this, sometimes I even catch myself thinking in Instagram captions. Thinking in Instagram captions!? What has become of my wonderfully complex and complicated brain, that I should reduce my thoughts to an Instagram caption!?
You see, there is never one single thought that manifests in my brain, there are hundreds. There is no single issue to which I can give my full attention, there are many. My brain, like this world, is constantly running at full speed. Rushing, rushing, always rushing. Consuming, consuming, always consuming. Like I said, I am almost convinced that the entire human race is rushing to its death. Sometimes I think we have the internet to thank for that.
Now where was I?
Ah yes, the article.
In summary, the author notes that…
When engaging in tasks on the interwebs, we modern mammals think we’re effectively doing several things at once, when in actual fact, multitasking is a powerful and diabolical illusion. Ironically, he states, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.
This seems to explain a lot. In response to this article, I recently installed an application called SelfControl on my computer, which allows me to enter a number of different web addresses that I want to block myself from visiting during a given period. Here I am, a mature (maybe) 21 year old who needs to forcefully remove all potential distractions when using the internet so as to ensure that SOMETHING actually gets done. Oh me, oh my, what a terrible attention span I have! What a miserable inability to focus!
It seems that if we want to lessen the amount of stress in our lives (who doesn’t?) then we must give multitasking the flick.
Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.
This seems to explain many of my cognitive inadequacies, as well as that creeping sense of anxiety I get when I invest too much time in social media sites. Info-mania is certainly to blame.
Research undertaken by Glenn Wilson, a professor of psychology at Gresham College, found that when a person is in a situation that requires them to concentrate on a task, and an email is sitting unread in their inbox, it can reduce their effective IQ by 10 points. I don’t know about you, but I certainly need those 10 points on my side when I’m churning out an assignment!
My favourite part of all, simply because it so relatable, is this:
Each time we dispatch an email (or text, or message, or open a tab, or reply to a comment, I might add) in one way or another, we feel a sense of accomplishment, and our brain gets a dollop of reward hormones telling us we accomplished something. Each time we check a Twitter feed or Facebook update, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird, impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.
We are addicted to information (particularly quantity, not quality), to fastness and instantaneous gratification. We have learnt to derive pleasure and a sense of accomplishment from menial tasks that, really, contribute nothing to our lives. Our capacity to focus is miserable. Our ability to devote time to one single entity is, frankly, non-existent. How many of you actually got to the bottom of this blog post without opening another tab, scrolling through Instagram, reading a Facebook status or replying to a text? I know that when I had to read Levitin’s article in class I found myself wanting to check my phone, wanting to open up my browser, wanting to multi-task.
Surely it’s not just me?
Find out more about my exploration of slowness here.