Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.26.1: THE MULTI-TASKING MIND

V026-01_vademecumWWe are still in the Jurassic of brain research, at least compared with what we know about the rest of our physiology, of which there is also a great deal left to learn.   So, as the reader might well learn from this piece—a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.   But, here goes anyway.

 

One of the things we have learned is that the brain can do some of its own “re-wiring.”   People who have had brain injuries, or even lost parts of their brain have shown us that other parts of the brain (remember, it’s sort of compartmentalized, like a butcher’s cow diagram, into different functions) can take over for missing parts.   So, while a lot of brain function is the product of biology and inheritance, we also, by way of the things we ask our brains to do, do a bit of re-wiring of our own.

 

What my brain has been wondering of late is:   Is there something going on with our brains these days that we need to be more attentive to?   We basically have the same brain that Cro-Magnon man had (except for Republicans, who got the Neanderthal version [1] ), but our brains are being asked to do some stuff that even our immediate ancestors did not have to deal with.   One is that our brains need to work longer than ever before because the increase in life span.   Cro-Magnon people were senior citizens by their teens and were lucky to get to their late twenties.   Go back a hundred years and most people were kicking off before they were fifty. These days, a fifty-year-old brain is still trying to figure out how to program a VCR and planning to enjoy a span of retirement that may be longer than their working years, hopefully without getting Alzheimer’s, or developing prostate problems or osteoporosis, diseases people didn’t live long enough to get.

 

Second, for all of human history except recent decades our brains didn’t have to deal with so many forms of knowledge, assess the validity of some many forms of “expertise” and increasingly, even change professions in order to survive.   Our modern brains have to process enormous amounts of information, much of it designed to exert influence on our minds through various means of indoctrination, and subliminal persuasion.   The brain might be bombarded with thousands of images in a single day.   Some people try to simplify the process of dealing with vast and often contrary information my surrendering their minds to simplistic formulations, cults, superstitions, and especially religions that purport to explain or make sense of it all.   This is LBD, “Lazy Brain Disease,” which is particularly virulent in Red States.

 

Third, our brains are increasingly asked to perform multiple tasks at the same time, like driving an SUV and making an appointment to have your nails done over your cell phone, or to have three applications open on your computer so you can compose email, download some music to your iTunes, while talking to someone on your speaker phone with the radio and/or the television on in the background.  

 

Often we go for long periods of time in which our brains are being stimulated with multiple tasks we must perform, but in our“leisure” as well.   Some people go from their TV, to their iPod, to their cell phone for long periods external stimulus without any “down time” for just reflection and introspection.   Some people are never “alone”; that cell phone with its speed dialer always at the ready to be “with” someone else.   Even though we live longer, putatively “save time” with our computers, easier communication, and faster transportation, we might be spending less time with “ourselves,” with our own brains, than ever before.

 

Now comes an item in Newsweek (10/17/05, page 61) titles “A Problem in the Brain.”  It’s about ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.   It reports that this disorder, which we used to associate with hyperactive kids has been growing exponentially in adults.   It is still increasing in kids (0-19), fifty-seven percent in the 2000-04 period; but by ninety-eight percent in adults (20-64) for the same period.   There are now about 1.5 million adults taking medication for symptoms such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, or both. [2]   So, . . . . Hey! Stay with me here!  

 

So, might some of this ADHD be the result of long periods in which brains are asked to do more and more things, faster and faster?   Might such multi-tasking and less un-reflective brain time be resulting in “re-wired” brains that aren’t able to stay focused, or always telling us that there is something else we are supposed to be doing?   Could it be that all this time surfing the Internet while listening to the 1000K tunes on your iPod, or frantically trying to beat some computer game of wiping out zillions of pixilated aliens faster than you did last time, or fiddling with your PDA, emailing on your Blackberry, or the composing a ext message on your cell phone, is preparing us for jobs that expect us to multi-task, and at which, it was announced recently, workers are averaging 54 hours a week?   These are just rhetorical questions, but they might be formed up into researchable hypotheses about the sorts of work-leisure patterns we have evolved and the “re-wiring” consequences they might have.   Big Pharma will probably be researching a different dimension of the problem; in 2004 their sales on drugs for ADHD were over $3.1, up three-quarters of a billion from 2000.

 

Hey! Hold on a sec . . . that’s the phone . . . no, wait, it’s the cell phone . . . where did I put that damn thing . . . huh? . . . wait a sec, will ya . . . there goes the fax . . . aha! There’s the cell phone, it was by the fax machine   . . . hello . . . Hey, No, I told you Nigerian con artist bastards I’m not giving you my bank account numbers! Go eat some yellow-cake! . . . let’s see what this fax is about?   Chilloutin , a new drug to relax your . . . right, I’ll ask my doctor . . . Oh, oh, that’s the email chime . . . hold on, sorry, let me just check these . . .

 

OK, I’m back.   Now, where were we . . . ?

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©2005, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 11.1.2005)

they can access at www.bushbrain.dim

[2] Of course, anything that is measured with increases in uses of pharmaceuticals has to be taken (excuse the pun) with a grain of salt, since Big Pharma has been pushing its medicaments in every medium, telling you to “ask your doctor” to let you try them out.   Hence, there might have been a good deal of ADHD around before, but un-self-diagnosed. (Cf. DCJournal, No. 6.5)

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