Mark Morford strikes again. I have been having this very conversation with everybody I know. It seems that my entire circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances is in the midst of this overwhelming busy-ness right now. I have been questioning the value and the lack of stillness myself and then Mark, as usual, did it more justice than my half-formed thoughts could have:
Full reprint below but the source is here.
No one is getting enough sleep.
No one is getting enough sleep because everyone is so damned stressed.
Everyone is so damned stressed because everyone has way, way too much to do and far too little time in which to do it.
Everyone has way too much to do and far too little time in which to do it because modern technology has made us a thousandfold more accessible and more wired up and more media drenched and able to communicate in 157 different instant digitized ways, has given us entree to so much astounding information at so much faster and more unbearable rates that it has, in effect, compressed time into sweaty slippery little knots we are forever trying to untie as quickly as we possibly can even though we can’t.
Slathered all over this is the fact that the Internet is a gorgeous wanton free-for-all of deliciously annoying distraction, porn and Instant Messenger and iTunes, eBay and Amazon and roughly one million blogs, RSS feeds and multimedia and movie trailers and the great time-sucking killer app of the 20th century, e-mail, and did I mention the porn and the music?
It’s enough, verily, to give normally sane and balanced and disciplined people a serious case of attention deficit disorder, the inability to focus for any length of time on any one project at hand without the mind and the eye and the desire immediately jumping away to the umpteen other activities and ideas and fun bits your brain felt it was ignoring by trying to focus on one measly paltry thing.
Is this happening to you? Are you not multitasking right now, calculating your to-do lists, answering your cell, text messaging your sister, reading this column, burning a new CD, thinking about sex, programming your Bluetooth, ordering some Astroglide online, processing 50 items at once? No? Something is wrong with you.
In fact, I have no idea how I am getting through this column right now. It has taken me roughly 19 hours to complete the handful of paragraphs above because I keep checking e-mail and configuring my iTunes playlists and responding to my girlfriend’s IM messages and reading my colleague David Lazarus’ trilogy of columns on the mad increase in sleep disorders and sleeping-pill intake in America.
And the phenomenon is, as you might expect, disturbing and telling and just a little sad, but I didn’t have all that much time to dwell on it because I also felt compelled to watch nine new movie trailers on Apple.com (“Mission: Impossible III” looks just god-awful and someone really should slap Tom Cruise) and check the status of two eBay bids and read up on a new Aneros sex toy over at Blowfish.com and satiate a nagging question I had about a quote from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and read up on BushCo’s nefarious plans to bomb the crap out of Iran, and did you know the newly redesigned Audi TT is coming out in April?
This is why God invented coffee. Coffee is our national narcotic. Caffeine is time’s Viagra. It is no coincidence that the rise of the godlike Starbucks Corp. coincided almost exactly with the rise of the Internet and the cell-phone explosion and the dot-com boom — that is, with the insane rise in instant communication and multitasking. Caffeine helps up keep up with the mad onslaught, even as it destroys our ability to calm the hell down and get some deep rest.
Did you know caffeine has a half-life in the body of six hours? That if you drink a big cup around noon, half of its 80-100 milligrams of nefarious caffeine are still bouncing through your bloodstream by dinnertime, and by midnight you’ve still got a happy glob of the stuff slapping at your exhausted brain stem like an angry wife slaps her ex-husband? Do you wonder why we’re taking more and more sleeping pills and screwing with the body’s natural rhythms and entering a vicious cycle of artificially jacking up/calming down to the point of, well, exhaustion?
Reminds me of Joshua Foer’s terrific piece over at Slate from May 2005 about his experience taking the prescrip amphetamine Adderall (normally prescribed for ADHD), just to see what it would do to him, just to see if he could, in fact, focus better and get more work done and imitate, to some pale degree, Jack Kerouac, who allegedly wrote “On the Road” in one insane brilliant nonstop stream-of-consciousness binge while jacked on so much Adderall-like amphetamines it would’ve choked a llama. The upshot: Except for the weird side effects and the numbing comedown and the various health hazards, Adderall worked, almost too well.
Of course, digging out the link to Foer’s piece also enticed me to read Slate’s review of alarm clocks, which also led to Will Saletan’s thick science-over-morality piece on South Dakota’s hideous new abortion law, which in turn somehow pointed to a mention of the New York Times story about the new rash of “sleep-driving,” about all the zombie-like people who are now getting into their cars after taking the sleep drug Ambien, which led me to the original NYT Ambien piece on the subject, which in turn flicked me over to the NYT Book Review, where I drifted in a literary haze until the sun shifted in the sky and the morning turned to afternoon and I realized I really needed to get back to work because the paragraph you just read took me about one hour and 13 minutes to complete. See?
Adderall sounds perfect. Adderall is exactly what I need. I could write five columns in two days! I could get ahead and forget my rolling deadlines, for once! I could start my novel, make more progress on my essay collection, learn podcasting in Garageband, finally read that 400-page book on digital photography, get all the way through “From Dawn To Decadence” and still have time to learn about Japanese sake prefectures!
Is this our national affliction? Our collective destiny? A nation of willful ADD sufferers, wired up and jittery and increasing unfocused even as we have more and more crap demanding our attention and even as we are increasingly unable to pause the chaos and sink into a moment and find some peace and actually feel the world around us?
Because I have news: We have been misled. It is one massive lie, a great myth of modern American culture that the more you think, the more you multitask, the more you process and analyze and ponder and the more stuff whirling around your brain at any given moment, the smarter and more connected you are. It is, in short, a total crock.
We equate deranged, caffeinated busyness with smarts, with success, when in fact the exact opposite is true. Just ask the yogis, the gurus, the healers of the past 5,000 years: It is actually when you calm the mind, clear things out, breathe deep and sleep deeper and clean out the toxins and the caffeine and the Ambien, that’s when real wisdom, real intuition comes your way. The rest is just, well, noise. Happy delicious annoying caffeinated sexy fun infuriating obnoxious unstoppable noise, but still noise.
But not to worry. They’ll soon develop a pill to block that, too.