Stupider and stupider or is it something else?

Some recent British study concluded that most of us feel overwhelmed, sad and confused these days but it was not – so much – the evil times in which we live but rather it was the disruption to our way of cogitating. We no longer think in the same manner as our species has for centuries. We now ‘process’ differently and that difference is resulting in a fragmented collective mindset in the larger society.

Put more succinctly, we are having a harder and harder time thinking, concentrating, focusing. No one, it seems, really truly multi-tasks more than two thought processes at a time and even two is uncommon. When we claim we are multi-tasking, we are really focussing on one thing for a short time and then focusing on the next thing for a short time before going back to the first thing to see how it is doing. A chef might look like he/she is multi-tasking but, really, they are tasking only and focussing on one thing while the other dishes simmer on the stove. In other words, we are not multi-tasking so much as quick-shifting-focus. And, while that, in itself will not make a short-order cook or a juggler depressed and confused, it will do that to them if they then spend every other waking moment on their phone accessing FaceBook, Twitter and such.

Our brains are not getting enough downtime.

It seems we are being subjected to too much stimuli and just can’t get away. Some people seem to handle it but the researchers say they are anxious and unhappy. It seems some people know that is a problem in their life and attempt to reduce the stimuli but that seems to just result in a bit more ‘down-time’ gained and how do we tend to use that downtime? By accessing our phone, of course.

The ‘study’ laid it all on a bit thick, to be fair. They then bunched in all the other attention grabbers in society from street and store signage to phones, from TV and radio to living on top of one another. You are a limited human-being utilizing 20% of your brain trying to juggle so many balls all at once (some of the stimuli you are aware of but others are playing in the background like MUZAK, lights, sounds) and the result is a lessening ability to focus. Seems people cannot concentrate on any one thing for long anymore….or, better put, not for as long as those people did fifty years ago.

I recall very distinctly – about ten years ago – when I was lying in bed after waking and I just lay there thinking. Sal said, “Want tea?” I said, “No, thanks. I am just gonna lie here for awhile and think. I cannot believe I have not really had a minute these past 40 years to just stop and think…you know? Think freely. Think whatever my brain suggests. Just free-wheelin’ thinkin’. This is an incredible luxury. I am not used to it. I am just gonna lie here and think. I can hardly believe how I was thinking all the time but never for fun, never freely, always with duties, responsibilities and chores. Finally, I can just think.”

Get this: According to research, our attention span has markedly decreased in just 15 years. In 2000, it was 12 seconds. Now, 15 years later, it’s shrunk significantly to 8.25 seconds. In fact, scientists reckon we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, who are able to focus on a task or object for 9 seconds.Jan 24, 2022

And another source: “COVID led to many people experiencing cognitive overload, whereby our brains become short-circuited due to being inundated with information our brains are trying to process,” says Crystal Burwell, director of outpatient services for Newport Healthcare Atlanta.Dec 22, 2021.

None of this really news-news but, when I stopped to think (that first time while lying in bed and ‘free-wheelin’) I was stunned at how liberating, freeing and pleasant it was. And do not confuse this kind of free-thinking with sitting in your car in traffic waiting for the light to change. That AIN’T IT. I am talking about something more profound, quieter and contemplative. I am talking laid-back, nothing-pressing thinking. I do not do it quite so much anymore (I guess I rested up enough) but I still do it once every two weeks. I really think it helps keep one sane.

For those of you who struggled with the length of this blog, the 8.5 second attention span website is for you:

17 thoughts on “Stupider and stupider or is it something else?

  1. I opened the knife drawer this morning and there was a packet of biscuits in there. I didn’t put them there. Turns out is was my 20 something eldest son. That type of thing did not start happening to me until I was in my 40s. I once read a story about Spinoza. Apparently, he used to sit on the edge of the bed for hours in the morning just thinking. He immediately became my favourite philosopher. I often startle my family when I suddenly stand completely still for about 10 minutes. I tell them that I am thinking. Turns out that I can’t think and do other things at the same time. By the way, I made it through your blog. I struggled with the first bit because it normally takes me a while to get into the zone.
    PS. My husband has Covid at the moment and my second live-in adult child has just recovered (?). I’m fine. Touchwood. Have been pretty busy running around after them though.


    • Sympathies. Two males ill is the equivalent of 25 mothers. There was a study on that, too. Seems men suffer more and complain and whine a GREAT deal more than women afflicted with the same flu or cold. I’m the worst. So, I should know. If I fall down a cliff and break my leg, I’d likely get up, go home and set it. If I have the flu, I just lay in bed and moan. Pretty pathetic. And you have two of them!
      Glad to see you back.


  2. Well, politicians figured out the 10 second sound bite for voters about 15 years ago…
    A coincidence or evil manipulation…..?


  3. I often wonder what (will) and is happening to the next generation and the generation after that. My youngest daughter almost spends all her waking moments behind some screen (most of the time laptop and mobile phone. All day, her brain is bombarded with “inputs”….a lot of young people suffer from anxiety/depression/…. A lot of stress is applied to them (you have to look great all the time/have hundreds of intrests and hobbies….they will NOT keep up or stay sane at this pace! AND they do NOT know any more what to do with their lives, having a steady job doesn’t seem to interest them, neither buying a house or some “steadiness” in their lives. Maybe they are smarter then us we were focussed at that age with work/career/house/family/kids….
    And I agree, our attention span has diminished, because we are “fed” constantly with impulses and inputs.
    If I take my youngest (14 years)to the orchard and ask her to give me a hand, she looks at me as if I’m from another planet…then finally she helps for about 5 minutes and then goes back watching tiktok movies….my elder children (in their twenties)fortunately do not “suffer” from the same disease


    • Well, firstly, there is no greater example of the trauma-from-change (puberty) than the 14 year old girl. I worked with delinquent youth for about seven or eight years culminating in being a counselor at a treatment centre. The ‘horror show’ was always a 14, 15 to 16 year old girl. They made witches and demons look good. The boys would act out in any number of ways from bullying to nerdism, from violence to grafiti, from drugs to thievery. The boys were a smorgasbord of bad behaviour. The girls only acted out two ways: mean-to-everyone and chemically. When girls go bad, there is an easy path and it seems to lure the 14’s and 15’s. These are the danger years, WdG. Watch her like a hawk! Best counter offensive is a really good peer group that plays sports. Enroll her in Karate. Anything to ‘work out’. Do not judge a ‘good’ peer group by their looks or social standing. It is often the little rich bastards that do the bad stuff.
      We kinda lucked out. When our daughter was a bratty, mall-rat, wannabe-be-with-friends type we went on a long road-trip across Canada and the US with a tour through Europe. Those five months shifted my daughter’s perspective so much that she has now traveled almost the entire globe, has her own business and owns her own home. It turned out that the key was to remove vulnerable girls from the bad influences for as long a time as possible (minimum six months).
      As for finding purpose…I believe that most young people can find a good purpose but it doesn’t look ‘promising’ to their parents….or, perhaps, even them! Art? Sport? Dance? And then there are all the ‘isms’, of course. And, anyway, environmentalism, saving puppies, working in a shelter…these are phases-of-youth…as she matures, she will likely find a more conventional purpose. Ya just gotta keep her ‘safe’ for as long as possible. Twenty one is about right….so only 7 more years of very heightened vigilance.


  4. @ wimdegendt

    There was an excellent article in The Economist about the adverse effect from to much computer or phone time with kids.

    The main results of a study.
    Since the rise of internet online access.
    Kids are more depressed, suicidal, self harming, etc etc etc.
    They never get a break from criticism, judgement, or bullying….
    Time for a few guidelines.

    1. Ask the child how long THEY think is acceptable to be on computers or smart phones per day.
    Most will surprise their parents with a reasonable time estimate. 2 hours ? 3?
    Make that time limit iron clad.

    NO PHONES OR COMPUTERS after a certain time. 9pm.
    Their young brains need a full night sleep.


  5. JD,Noncon, thanks for the good advice! Much appreciated! We got her 3 older sisters through these “tough” years, so like you said, 7 more difficult years to go!
    We already applied some of the rules you mentioned (like no more phone/computer/TV after 9pm) and try to put a limit on #hours on the phone.
    And 1.5 years ago, she took lessons in horseback riding (and you can’t watch your phone while riding a horse…so that seemed a very good hobby)
    She really likes horses, she even volunteers after riding classes to take care of the horses and clean stables, so that is really helping. It even teaches her to take responsibility for something/somebody, so we think this really helps in surviving this difficult period.
    And rest assured, I AM watching like a hawk!


  6. Very interesting topic. Our daughter came to me at 30 years of age and told me she was never having children. I said you are only 30 why would you make that decision? She said they were to hard to raise (speaking about herself) I had to laugh she was right. I met a women on a business trip to Toronto. We started talking about our kids and her best quote was “at fourteen my daughter went into her bedroom and came out a bitch at 21 she went back into the bedroom and came out a nice person”. We have boy grandchildren.


    • Girls of that age are virtually uncontrollable and uninfluenceable. If they are ‘mature’ for their age, they get drawn into all sorts of crap. One little 14 year old who was cuter-than-a-bug’s-ear was hanging tough with a gang I was working with back in the 70’s. And then she disappeared. One year later the gang informed me that she had been arrested with two huge older black guys in Seattle. They were caught robbing a bank – each with shotguns!! And SHE was not the worst.


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