Neuroscience is confirming what we all suspect: Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy. I read this headline on The Atlantic.com back in January, but it didn’t resonate with me at the time. That is, until recently when I had a senior moment. No, I didn’t forget my house keys or one of my three kids at the beach for that matter. I had a senior moment while writing an e-mail to a colleague.

You see, I suffer from what Brian Morrissey of Adweek recently referred to as Constant Partial Attention Disorder (CPAD). I don’t think you’ll find this term in the medical books and, last I checked it wasn’t listed in Wikipedia either. CPAD is a relatively new disorder present primarily in people working in the digital, technology and emerging media space. My hunch is that there are currently tens of thousands of people suffering from CPAD each year, but they haven’t been diagnosed yet.

CPAD is the inability to be present while engaging in an activity. Those who suffer from CPAD cannot devote adequate attention to several activities at once. Stated differently, it’s a compulsion.

It’s the online equivalent of having a conversation with someone who’s eyes are constantly looking past you to see what they’re missing rather than trained on you. So, in the case of my ‘senior moment’ I started to write an e-mail and simultaneously spawned 12 browser windows, jumped into no less then 3 online chats, engaged in a Twitter string and responded to a text message on my blackberry. All at the same time. Within three minutes, I lost my way — forgot where I was and what I had started. I literally had to close each window, one by one, to trace my steps back to the original e-mail.

When I asked Morrissey for his definition of CPAD he had this to say, ‘…in the last five minutes, i’ve checked gmail, replied on twitter, looked at a response to my fbook status (didn’t even know it had that capability), checked google reader, looked at work email, this IM w you and talked to a coworker. oh, yeah, i’m writing a story at the same time. whoops…’

According to Walter Kirn a writer for The Atlantic, “Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires — the constant switching and pivoting — energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on… studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy.”

So my friends, there you have it. The new normal ain’t so normal. In fact, it’s unhealthy. Rocking 16 applications at once shouldn’t be a badge of honor we brandish publicly. Rather, it’s a compulsion we should be aware of and take control over before it takes control of us.

Risk Assessor

Knowing your risk for CPAD is one of the most important tools you have to fight it. The Risk Assessor below can help you quickly diagnose this condition.

To determine whether or not you suffer from CPAD, please take the following test. If you answer yes to 3 or more of these questions, seek help immediately. Simply post a message on The Third Place with your exact symptoms and we’ll get back to you with recommended therapy shortly.

  1. Do you spawn a minimum of 3 windows at once when working on your computer (e.g., Safari, AIM, Twitter, etc.)?
  2. Do you look down at your Blackberrry or iPhone for status updates while conducting conversations with friends, family and colleagues?
  3. Do you jones to Tweet?
  4. Do you conduct multiple simultaneous online chats with friends and colleagues?
  5. Do you reach for your Blackberry/iPhone within seconds of starting to read the newspaper on your commute to work?
  6. Do you read blogs while checking e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed?
  7. Have you ever forgotten what you were doing online because you spawned too many windows at one time?
  8. Can you honestly say that you’re present when having a one-on-one conversation with another individual – starring into their eyes and listening to nothing more than the sound of their voice?

If you think you’re suffering from CPAD, don’t suffer alone. The Third Place is here to help. Simply post your symptoms on this Blog and our readership will support you.

Be present. Be aware. Be free.

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