Welcome back, my friends. This is the season of go-go-go, of speed-breakfasting, bus-catching, and teleporting between home and school and dance and soccer. This is the resurgence of 20-minute stand-up dinners, bedtime warnings, homework checking, and nag-nag-nag. This is that place where your hands are cuffed to iPhones and car keys, where you learn to juggle kids and spouses, work and dirty kitchens. This is the time of first-grade mobiles and second-grade book reports and third-grade TAKS tests and mountains of unfolded laundry. This is the familiar highway with no exits.
Thrilling, isn’t it?
Okay, I admit it: I do thrive a bit on this feeling of perpetual motion. It reminds me of when I worked in a real office, spinning a chair between my desk, the computer, the file cabinet, the phone, the white board, doing thirty things at once and feeling very important. Very productive. I still feel that way sometimes when I enter school dates into my Outlook calendar, check school lunch accounts online, then turn to my newly minted third grader and oversee her intense project of gluing dog kibble into a jelly jar lid, and turn back to the Web site I’m working on for a client. I feel like I am gettin’ it done, man. I’m going. I’m moving. I’m telling my two-year-old to pick up the forty yards of curling ribbon he just unspooled throughout the whole downstairs, and I’m making lunches, and I’m planning neighborhood parties by email. I am the productivity master.
Well, I thought I was. Then I heard this guy on the radio the other night, and he blew it for me. He said that all my multi-tasking, particularly multi-tasking that involves all my beloved tech devices, might boost some productivity, but it also could be hurting my brain. Apparently there are neurologists who are studying what happens to us when we over-connect and try to do too much at once, even if all we’re doing is checking a quick email while we’re waiting in the grocery checkout line. He said something about how we could be losing the ability to form memories. And our ability to truly focus. (Or something like that—I was only half listening, and I can’t recall what his precise words were.)
Anyway, what I do remember is that he had specific advice from the brain doctors about how to remedy the situation. We apparently need downtime. And not just any kind of downtime. We need off-the-grid, longer-than-three-day VACATIONS. Regularly, he said.
So, my friends, as you get back in the swing of things this school year, and you start to feel like a cartoonist would draw a caricature of you as a spider, all eight appendages affixed to some child or remote control or a frying pan or a homework assignment, remember this (if you haven’t yet lost the ability to remember): You need to take an honest-to-goodness break from time to time. Go camping with the family and (I’m chastising myself here) stop documenting it hour by hour on Facebook. Take a weekend trip with your husband where neither of you checks email once. Stop telling yourself you can’t schedule it in or feeling like you don’t deserve it. You absolutely can, and you completely do. After all, you’re hurting your brain—and by consequence, your family—if you overwhelm yourself with the influx of data that happens this time of year.
Now, you’ll never catch me saying our reliance on technology is bad, particularly as it makes so many things easier on a mom during the school year. And sometimes, for me, downtime is the ten minutes I spend reading the newsfeed on Facebook after four hours of looking at “real” work. I don’t have to digest the information. It’s okay if it goes in one ear and out the other. But like this guy on the radio said the other night, technology is like food. “We know that some food is Twinkies and some is Brussels sprouts. And we know that if we overeat, it causes problems,” he explained. “Similarly, after, say, 20 years of glorifying all technology as if all computers were good and all use of it was good, I think science is beginning to embrace the idea that some technology is Twinkies, and some technology is Brussels sprouts. And if we consume too much technology, just like if we consume too much food, it can have ill effects.”*
Makes sense, right? I think so. I’m going to make it my mission this school year to power down at least an hour a day and focus on one thing and one thing only for the entire 60 minutes.
And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll sell my husband on this vacation theory.
(*For those who are interested, the radio program I’m referring to was the August 24th edition of “Fresh Air with Terri Gross” on NPR. Her guest was Matt Richtel, a technology reporter for the New York Times, who is currently doing several series involving the topic of “digital overload.” You can read the transcript of the show here: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=129384107 )