I had no memory of where I parked my car. Why? While I was parking the car, a friend called. Against my better judgment I took the call. I wanted to talk to him, and I found myself so engrossed in the experience of telling him everything that happened with our mutual loved one (who is suffering from cancer) over the last month, that I had apparently no memory of where I parked the car. All I could remember was the sensation of walking over a pedestrian overpass, and looking for the spa, where ironically, I was going to relax.
The theme of the day was multitasking. I blamed multitasking for the incident. I lost my car, but first believed it might be stolen. It’s always fun when those two questions obsessively course through your brain: Did I lose my car or was it stolen? After 30 minutes of scouring for it on foot, I flagged down a cop who amazingly helped me find the car by driving around with me. He was my savior. After thirty more minutes we found it. I gushed, “Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.” I think he thought I was the most tightly wound woman in San Francisco.
Some defenders call it, “continuous partial attention.” I think they are kidding themselves. Just that morning, I found myself unable to stop emailing while listening to an absolutely riveting KQED Forum radio show about our increasing propensity to text, IM, email, and watch videos while doing everything else. The Stanford study expected “heavy media multitaskers” to have special abilities, but instead, but all they found were deficits in their memory, efficiency, attention, and organizational skills, as compared to non-heavy-media multitaskers. HMMs have the illusion of productivity, but the brain’s switching costs, from emailing to IM to video to writing, are too high. The brain can only process one string of information at once.
Add a new symptom to the list: I realized that I suffer from multitasking-induced dementia. The moment of parking my car didn’t even happen because it doesn’t get etched into my memory. I remember many details of my phone call with Robert, and nothing about the street where I parked my car.
What does this all have to do with quirkyalone?
We have to stop the multitasking madness. At least, I know I do. It’s antithetical to the vida quirkyalone, or the good life, in any sense. When we multitask, we don’t suffer only cognitively. I believe we suffer emotionally too. That’s the study I would like to see next. What does multitasking do to our mood and self-esteem? If you’re me, you feel like an idiot because you lose your car! More generally, if you are moving so fast and doing so many things, you’re not present for your own life. If you don’t notice your surroundings and take pleasure in the moment, you’re not living la vida quirkyalone.
Our quirky divinity emerges when we are more grounded and still. That’s when the answers become clear, that’s where joy lives. I am such a believer in stillness and focus and doing one thing at a time, but I have to remind myself of the value of stillness over and over again. I have to exercise willpower to do just one thing: eat, write, read, watch a movie, even now. The temptation to pick up my laptop is there. It’s a message I need to hear so many times before it sinks in, before I acquire the willpower to put my phone in my purse and zip it closed. I really believe it’s the key to happiness and ease for me. It’s crazy how we are trying to alter our brains to do more than one thing at once. . . it doesn’t work.
So today I forgot my phone at home and I will be without it for a few hours. I am giddy about that. I just wrote this blog post, only checking my email once and going online to research the study! What a victory. I am breathing deeper.
What are your thoughts on multitasking? Can you multitask and be happy, or are you trying to cut back too?
P.S. Here is a short video I made with my aunt and her caregiver about quirkyness. . . listen for the end for some profound thoughts about stillness and quirkyness. It’s a little hard to hear at the end, but it’s very spot-on for this topic.
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