Now, however, the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason.
I thought about how I’ve had the lines between my own public and private spheres blur and shift and be forcibly redrawn through online exposure, and about how that’s affected me emotionally, powerfully, in both positive and negative ways. And in the end my experience leads me to conclude that, yes, the internet and its technology IS changing and influencing us — whether we like it or not, whether we want to own up to it or not — and not necessarily in positive ways.
The debate, then, isn’t really whether she can or should do it. The very real question is why do we still live in a presumably civilized society—one that stands so morally and righteously on a platform of “family values”—where a majority of mothers are still being denied the choice Mayer enjoys? What she’s doing isn’t new or revolutionary: every day, mothers across America with limited resources, incomes and physical, mental and emotional support squat in the fields of this land, birth their babies and then head back to the assembly lines and the secretary desks and the fast food restaurants without benefit of choice—the choice to either spend precious time with their newborns, head back to work quickly because they want to do their jobs, or pull together a combination of the two so that they can be moms and good workers. America’s ridiculously arcane maternity leave laws, which benefit only a slither of our country’s moms, make the balance impossible—especially for regular moms with regular jobs. Basically, most working moms.
Now most studies all point towards the fact that multitasking is very bad for us. We get less productive and skills like filtering out irrelevant information decline. Personally I had the same results without ever reading the above studies before. I put some things in place, especially with working online, to win my productivity back and ban multitasking from my workflow once and for all.
In its various forms (which include PTSD and OCD), anxiety afflicts 18 percent of the adult U.S. population. The chronic worrying that is Smith’s focus is a “neurotic disturbance” that puts the sufferer in a state of perpetual disaster preparedness. It’s “a kind of drama queen of the mind,” he writes. “Anxiety compels a person to think, but it is the type of thinking that gives thinking a bad name: solipsistic, self-eviscerating, unremitting, vicious.”
This same type of distracted pattern was emerging when out and about as well. I was picking up my phone for no good reason at all, other than out of pure habit. Refreshing my feed every few minutes just to see if anyone had posted anything earth shattering. No one I was with ever really complained about it, and I could leave my phone at home or in the car if need be and not suffer from severe withdrawals. But it just started to get to me. I started to feel guilty having the kids see me constantly pick up my phone, and I got irritated with myself that I couldn’t sit through a stop light without checking my phone.