The soundbite-riddled 24-hour media parade spits out a lot of information that's generally trendy nonsense, but every once in a while, a hip-sounding phrase will lodge into the Bird's brainpan and make a little bit of sense. The latest term that's put the Magpie in a contemplative Mood? "Popcorn Brain."
It sounds fluffy and innocuous enough, but it's the latest social warning sign term to be batted around on legitimate news sites like CNN (Does life online give you 'popcorn brain?) We've all been there -- mobile phone attached to our head, television on to show latest streaming headlines, one (sometimes two) laptops or computers on-hand to handle email as well as work, along with browser windows forever at the ready to see what latest Tweets, Facebook posts or Foursquare checkins have happened in the last thirty seconds. When all these information streams shut down, what do we have left? An unnerving amount of silence, and for some, it can probably feel unsettling. Sound familiar? You, my friend, have Popcorn Brain, where the mind becomes almost addicted to this need for instant, nonstop interaction and you feel real life is dull in comparison. Don't worry, it's not a disease, there's no complicated drug therapy required. Most of the solution behind this addiction to the constant pop-pop-pop flow of information is awareness that your brain is overstimulated, and for heaven's sake, put that Smartphone down for two seconds.
Easier said than done, I realize. I'm just as guilty of this, as my own office has been a prison of technology on busy days, where I've literally got three computer screens -- two dual monitors displaying design work, writing pieces and multiple email accounts, and then a laptop to handle personal things like a Facebook page and instant message windows. I'll even keep a spare iPhone handy to handle just Tweets, my personal cel for work calls, and then the home phone within arm's reach for household-related calls. You think I'm joking. The sad thing is, I'm not. So maybe that's why the Popcorn Brain phrase really stuck in my head. But why is this such a bad thing? Isn't it a sign of increased intelligence to be able to handle so much data at one time? Sure, the human brain is compared to being a big ol' organic computer, but the study points out the familiar question of, are we preferring technology over real human interaction? Sure, Tweeting/Facebooking/Foursquaring is fun and stuff, but it's not the same as having a real conversation with a person. And shooting off a "hello" email to a little one isn't the same as sitting down and reading a story to that child. When we start to prefer the excitement of constant new information from a neverending flow of instant reactions, consider it the sign that Rome is about to fall, so grab your fiddle, Nero, and start to boogie.
I'm not going to stand on a pulpit and say, put down that computer and cancel your Facebook accounts -- I'm sure as hell not doing that anytime soon. I've got a blog, for God's sake. But it does go back to the familiar saying of making sure one's life and work remain informed. If we're not taking the time to really inhabit our lives, then we're not going to be capable of creating meaningful work and dialogue with others. I keep a stack of magazines and books on my bedstand, which I tend to read a little from every night, mostly to unplug from the day's events. Sometimes my brain is so wired, I can't even flip through the latest catalog from Pottery Barn -- just pitiful. I clearly have overcooked Popcorn Brain. So as a gift to my future sanity, I promise to try and create more space for myself. Try harder to embrace moments of silence and quality time with my own thoughts, and not rely on the stream of others' input to entertain me. I think we could all afford to do the same, don't you think?
Jaunty Fine Print: digital illustration/collage by Denise Sakaki