I'm about halfway through Donna Tartt's 864-page novel The Goldfinch and I'm completely hooked, so much so that I've flouted one of the fundamental rules of my inherited work ethic - the one which forbids reading for pleasure during the hours of daylight (Sundays excepted). I've even been tempted to treat myself to reading the book in the way I imagine it was created - continuously, concentrating solely on the task, taking breaks only for nature's necessities. But there are so many other things distracting my attention - and all of them with claims to priority - that I can't see it happening.
Of course I've only got myself to blame: having fallen for the lure of technology, the internet in particular and email especially, I'm now busier than I've ever been in my life. Gone are the days when the volume and quality of one's correspondence was limited by the time and expense it took to produce it. Email put paid to that: it may be a free service but there's a hidden cost in the effort of sorting through and responding to the masses of messages that come in daily. And I have three accounts.
Nor does it help that I've inadvertently taken on other people's jobs - travel agents' for example. At first it's fun to trawl through the offers and deals for flights, hotels and RV hire in the Rocky Mountains, but there comes a point when information-overload causes indecision, frustration, and grumpiness. People get paid for doing this stuff, so maybe it's time to heed the old adage "jack-of-all-trades, master of none" and engage the services of professionals. Still, with all this powerful technology at our fingertips, the temptation to DIY is hard to resist.
And for those who may view my complaint as a symptom of wimpish inability to do more than one thing at a time, let me bring to your attention the results of neuro-scientific research which challenge not only the definition of multi-tasking but also the supposed benefits. The results show that we don’t actually do several things at once: in fact we switch from one task to another - albeit very quickly. Not so clever after all, especially as there are consequences in the form of poor decision-making and "cognitive losses" greater than those consequent on pot-smoking. Which means that multi-tasking after smoking marijuana is not the paradox it might appear: it’s simply slower than the high-speed version – and causes less brain damage.
The implication of the research is that it's better to concentrate our minds on one thing at a time, to dig deeper rather than wider, so as to reap more reward and satisfaction from our activities. Since it's impracticable to return to the simpler, pre-computer existence some of us knew, we must somehow wean ourselves off multi-tasking and temper our addictions to social media and constant connectivity. Some travel agents now sell holidays in remote places deliberately chosen for their lack of phone signal and internet connection - a sort of re-hab for tech-junkies - although having to come back to the real world means it can only be a temporary cure. A cheaper, everyday respite - sometimes overlooked - is to be found by turning off the connections and diving into a book. I can recommend The Goldfinch.
And, if you don't fancy reading, another inexpensive way to turn off is to take a nap which, according to the same neuroscientists, is more than just refreshing: they've demonstrated that a 15-minute nap can produce the equivalent of a 10-point boost in IQ. I think I'll go and lie down for half an hour before I check on my email.