Neuroscientist and author Frances Jensen, in describing what normal life has become for most of society, calls what happens neurologically dementia of the preoccupied.
It’s an apt term. It’s also the brain mimicking dementia symptoms, because our brains aren’t wired to do continual rapid attention/task shifts nor is it wired to multitask.
Despite a lot of evidence that a 24/7 connection to technology (produces a neurological condition, which includes changes to the structure of the brain, known as digital dementia) and multitasking are not only damaging the brain long-term, but they also reduce productivity dramatically (the effect neurologically is exactly the same as staying awake for 24 hours or more or smoking marijuana), a 24/7 connection to technology and multitasking are still seen as badges of honor and are highly prized both professionally and personally.
The problem with multitasking is that we can’t really multitask. Neurologically, we are wired to focus all our attention on a single task and to complete it before moving on to something else. When we try to force our brains to do something they aren’t designed to do, we end up doing more harm to ourselves than good.
One harm is simply forgetting what we were doing, leaving it unfinished, or forgetting to do something we needed to do altogether.
As a result, at the end of a day, which is when we finally put that phone down, turn the digital devices off, and turn off all the rest of the technology we have going (until we open our eyes the next morning), all we have is a random, disjointed mess of incompletion. In other words, we have little to nothing concrete or finished to show for being awake for 14-16 hours.
That increases anxiety, which is damaging to the brain. It also increases stress, which is damaging to the brain.
And because we’re not getting anything accomplished, we’re constantly behind and getting further behind until we’re completely overwhelmed to the point of just quitting, so that most of what we set out to accomplish as far as things that actually mean something and are important never get done.
The modern world, if we choose to follow the crowd, is bad for our brains. I suspect that we will see more dementia-like symptoms emerging sooner in the general population in the not-too-distant future because of our addiction to multitasking and being connected 24/7 to technology.
I also expect the longer-term outcome of our multitasking and 24/7 connection to technology to be another kind of permanent lifestyle dementia among the general population.
But, as with all lifestyle dementias, we can make choices that can prevent dementia of the preoccupied, digital dementia, and the real possibility of early, permanent dementia.
But it means that we have to be willing to go in a different direction from the crowd of society, and most of us, it seems, get more short-term satisfaction from following the crowd and being part of it than we do from the conscious effort of taking care of ourselves and making changes and choices that are neurologically – and physically and emotionally – healthy.
We’re already paying dearly, in ways we may not be aware of, for the choices we’re making. The cost will only get steeper with time.
It will not only affect us in dramatic and negative ways, but also our loved ones who will end up either taking care of us because we are unable to take care of ourselves or will be forced to have someone else take care of us because they can’t meet the demands of caregiving.
We don’t have control over the external factors – and nobody really knows or will ever know what all of those are – that cause dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. We don’t have control over genetic factors that give us a greater risk of developing these degenerative neurological diseases.
But we do have control over the choices we make in our lives that put us at greater risk for developing dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
It is my hope that we will all choose to take that control and use it wisely.