Nothing: Part 15

Multi-tasking. The word sounds cliched and ugly to me these days. I considered myself an expert at it before, took so much pride in my parallel processing abilities. I can still do it with ease but it brings me no joy. It doesn’t come with the feather in the cap of having packed each 24 hour period with so much. But it makes me feel as though things are just a short step away from spiralling out of control even if it’s about having a conversation while the television is on. I want to go back to giving my full attention to one thing at a time…within reason…I still don’t think I can drive without listening to music; so maybe two things at a time.

Is it age or exhaustion? I am averse to attributing anything to age; the same pair of eyes are staring at the greyness of my office cubicle as did at the colorful kiddy drawings that used to be tacked up on school bulletin boards. Afterall, some neurons stay with us for life. It’s just a deep desire to turn away from all the noise, from nerves jangled by the informational juggernaut that bears down on me, unrelenting in its approach.

We had to work for our information before, travel to it, swim upstream or downstream for it and now we stand still, rooted and catatonic but awash in news that’s old even before it can be fully processed by our brain.  Perhaps there’s such a thing as information erosion, stripping away my epithelials, a layer at a time while I stand still, buffetted and battered by the toxic waves.  And of course there is an inability to move away from it all, to acknowledge the corrosive effects.

I never thought I would resort to yearning for things as they were before, but it used to be so much more satisfying to pull The New York Times out of its translucent blue sleeve and read it, a section at a time, instead of picking up on tinyurl tweeted by someone.  Everyone finds the same things interesting, everyone forwards the same things to all of their followers, constantly trying to be the first ones who picked up on something, anything.  Why the race?

The only concept I somewhat retained from my awful MBA corporate finance course is that information is old almost as soon as it qualifies as information.  By the time one decides to make investment decisions on information that they now have it would already be too late.  But now we have corporations stocking up on “social media” employees to monitor every social networking site to watch for trends, to monitor things like “buzz” and “hits” and “trending topics”.  Isn’t this counter-intuitive? If you didn’t create the trend then you are a pathetic follower! By the time your corporation decides to act on what’s hot it will long be cold and dead! So what is the point of it all? To my mind it’s an image of a car that’s attempting to cross a drawbridge that suddenly opens up and rises steeply in front of the driver before he or she has a chance to go across, leaving the pull of gravity as the only outcome for car and driver.

I want to turn away from it all, I don’t want to get snagged in things that have just gone “viral”.   I don’t want Google to track my location and figure out where my clacking keyboard is, I don’t want iTunes and to “recommend” more of the same things to me, emailing me what my previous preferences show I am interested in and I don’t want Facebook telling me I should befriend someone because he or she is a friend of a friend of a friend. 

The only option is to walk away, to stop being hynotized and so mesmerized by it all.  I am growing to resent being told to like more of what I’ve liked in the past and to like something because others are liking it. 

I want them to think chaos theory when they see my profile…refer to Jurassic Park again where Jeff Goldblum so lucidly illustrates how it’s impossible to tell the direction in which a drop of water will branch out as it trickles.  Just because I looked for books written by surfers shouldn’t make these prying eyes comfortable with the idea of marketing surfing equipment to me.   I read an article in the last issue of The New Yorker, in the personal history section, about fishing for chain pickerel.  I liked what I read.  I learnt so much about pickerel, how they eat their own kind, how you see crayfish and frogs hop out of pickerel if you slice it open and how you often find a pickerel inside a pickerel because they devour their young.  I might be curious enough to do some searches on pickerel, pike or walleye, now that my mind is open to it.  Would they then peg me as an intrepid pickerel fisherwoman?

Something needs to give. Marketers need to rewrite their algorithms to account for eclectic tastes.  Information won’t stop coming at us, so we need to install personal dams, dykes, whatever it takes to slow down, divert the flow…irrigate our minds efficiently and not chaotically.

In the meantime, I find myself revisiting the song Amazing Grace, and seeing the beauty in the Serenity Prayer and making a conscious effort to just slow down, even if the effort is still imperceptible, the intention will drive it.

More on why an agnostic like me is thinking of these prayers and the issue of surrender in the next post…

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