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June 21, 2006

Filed under: culture»internet»excession

Sorry, what were we talking about?

So the DVD finally starts playing the actual movie after forty previews, mostly for terrible Disney flicks you will never watch, and then--hey, who is that actor? You've seen him somewhere before. Fire up IMDB, check out his CV, add a couple of his films to the Netflix queue--and while you're at it, check your e-mail, because it's been five or ten minutes, and maybe browse a blog or two. Who's on AIM? And is the movie actually over already?

This is how it starts. Nowadays, I actually have trouble sitting down to watch a movie without a laptop or something to do while it plays--a habit only exacerbated by my taste in forgettable horror flicks. Now, I know I live a pretty varied, busy life with lots of hobbies and interests that I bounce between, but should I really be multitasking that much?

At work, I'm actually worse. I have my monitor in portrait mode. Lotus Notes is maximized in the background, with B-SPAN videos played at the top inch or so of the screen. The rest of the screen plays host to cascaded applications: tw.net webmail, a random browser window or two (including Pandora when I'm not watching video), the B-SPAN admin applet, notepad.exe where I keep my to-do list for the day, at least one instance of Word, and my SSH session to milezero.org off to one side, where I can add a few sentences every half hour or so. I alt-tab like a madman.

A long time ago, I read this editorial by Rands and thought "he's talking about me." He calls it NADD, Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder--not a name I'm particularly fond of, but you have to admit it describes the situation pretty well. And he thinks it's a good thing.

I'm not so sure.

It took me a long time to build the kind of self-organization structure (remember that notepad window?) that I need to keep myself on target. I make a lot of lists--you've probably noticed. I can hold a good, interactive conversation nowadays--but I still have a tendency to begin ranting and jump from topic to topic, which I have realized is not only frustrating for others but is also more than a little rude. And my inability to pick only a single area of expertise landed me a Comm degree and the realization that nobody wants to hire a generalist anymore. I got very lucky when I transferred to my current position, since they are more than happy to exploit whatever random talents I manifest in addition to my writing skills.

Did I mention the boredom issues? Seriously, I've got boredom issues. Gotta be doing something all the time. Drove a couple of ex-girlfriends nuts.

I wonder, sometimes, if people had this kind of problem before the Internet existed--and if so, how they handled it. More importantly, is it going to spread? For those of us in developed countries that don't face the Grim Meathook Future, we are going to continue being surrounded by information. Advertisements are everywhere--and I hate to reference Spielberg, but it is only a matter of time before they start interacting a la Minority Report. The Internet is on everything. Appliances are getting smarter, and more networked. Wireless is becoming standard. Bruce Sterling probably hears this kind of thing and practically has puppies from excitement, but I'll be honest: it frightens me.

I see this as a trend in two directions. The first is the sound bite, which we all know and love. It simplifies complicated issues, eases the production of misleading information, blah blah blah--not a good thing. On the other hand, I wonder sometimes if the modern fundamentalist movement, at its core, is a symptom of people who are just not wired to handle a high-information environment. And as it gets worse, do they keep getting weirder?

Future - Present - Past