a scientific study on the effects of iPhone usage, and also motherhood, on the brain

I recently read an article in my alumni magazine that begins this way: “You might be less likely to finish reading this article if you have an iPhone.” Humph. Well. I have an iPhone. It’s pretty new, actually. I was in the Stone Ages for a while with a cute red slide-y one, but now I can’t imagine breastfeeding without a little “Words with Friends” action. So I took this first sentence as a challenge and hunkered down to read every last word of that damn article.

I read.

I turned the page.

I turned the next page, to see how much longer the article went on.

Then I started skimming.

Skim, skim, skimeroo.

Right before I gave up entirely.

So the magazine article (which, in case you’re interested, is called “Is Technology Scrambling Our Brains?” by Christine Spicer) won. It wasn’t a boring article—on the contrary, it was full of very useful information about how technology is retraining our brains to make us more distractible. I highly recommend the first few sentences, and the ones that were pulled out and enlarged in big, colorful bubbles.

When did this happen to me? I am a writer. A reader. A student. I have gotten through Beowulf and Moby Dick and more than one John Irving novel. I stayed up into the wee hours of the morn trying not to confuse the Russian characters in The Brothers Karamazov, and I did so with a bit of success, if I do say so myself. And now I can’t get through a six-page article that freakin’ dared me to finish it?

Maybe technology is changing me. Stephen L. Carter, in a fascinating piece (that I read almost all of) called “Text a Little Less, Think a Little More,” maintains that we, as a culture, are losing our ability for independent thought because our brains are never, ever idle. We move from one thing to the next with surprising speed. If we have even a moment that is not chock full of media, we are pissed. (Have you ever forgotten your phone? Like, for one trip to the grocery store? It’s like the apocalypse. WHAT IF SOMEONE NEEDS ME? Gah!!! WHAT IF I DON’T KNOW WHAT CEREAL SCOTT WANTS? WHAT IF I’M BEING CHASED BY ZOMBIES?!?!! HOW WILL I INFORM THE JEDIS?)

I can’t give my iPhone all the credit, though. That would be too easy.

I’ve done some scientific research, and here is a chart indicating the precise brain activity I can expect on any given moment:


I also forgot “Desperately trying to get that blasted Wonder Pets theme song out of my head,” which is a slight flaw in my research.

Being a parent of small ones has got to change your brain way way way way way way more than owning an iPhone, right? Way more.

I know you know the feeling—you posted about it here. Whether it’s my iPhone or my children or my lifestyle or simply this point in my life that is causing the shrinking attention span, is there anyone out there who can give me some encouragement? Does it get any easier? Because this can’t bode well for a writer. Maybe when the kids can start doing their own laundry? Or at least when they start watching shows with better theme songs? Like Mad Men?

You probably haven’t finished reading this, anyway. Did anyone finish reading this?


14 thoughts on “a scientific study on the effects of iPhone usage, and also motherhood, on the brain

  1. re: the motherhood aspect of your post (I love the pie chart. Love it.)

    And this is one of the many reasons the transition to motherhood was so difficult for me. How in one instant, my world became microcosmic. All about this little, bitty being. And what came out of her body several times a day. About what she eats, how much. Does it cause a rash? Is she being stimulated? Is she becoming too dependent on me for sleep? As a pacifier? Do we need a therapist? For my marriage? My parenting? My inability to leave her to go to Target? My desire to leave her and move to Africa?

    Didn’t I used to think about Sudan? The environment (not just as it relates to HER clean air or HER organic baby food). Didn’t I used to talk to friends about meaningful things? Didn’t I used to read books? Didn’t I have a Masters Degree for crying out loud? Don’t I have so much more to DO?

    And then I submitted. Gave up. Gave in. Relinquished authority over my life for this chapter. And then it got tolerable. And then really good. And now I’m at peace with a smile on my face (most days).

    Once I allowed myself the idea that maybe microcosmic is what it is, it’s studying something up close. It’s watching something intently that maybe no one else is noticing. It’s being amazed that a tooth can be absent one day, and the next day POOF! It’s watching my child while she watches a robin build a nest. It’s watching her squish mud in her toes, and then wipe in on her sister and the cat. It is acknowledging that THIS slow progression of a person is pretty amazing to witness and participate in. (Katie, you are already so good at this stuff!) It is realizing that my identity is not tied to what I’m doing, but who I am.

    I never planned to quit my job and stay home, but after a birth-related injury and paralysis became part of my daughter’s story, I made the decision to focus on her recovery. I didn’t realize at the time that I needed to recover as well. So, this accidental SAHM bakes her own bread, grinds her own wheat. (Can’t get much more microcosmic than bread chemistry, right?) I’ve recently started making my own yogurt. I read one or two books a month. I read Newsweek religiously. I invest in friendships and service. I’m learning to let my new normal change and shape me for this season. I’ve stopped desperately trying to maintain my old identity.

    I’m super thankful to be reminded that all of you Mama Bears out there are also transitioning and wrestling at all different places in this process. It feels good to have community in that.

    • You’re so right, CB– the community is so important. I frequently remember your advice to give the whole “having two kids” thing at least 6 months to get used to. (I am coming upon 6 months, by the by. Only two weeks away! WHAT?!?!) Thanks for the thoughtful post. You need to be a guest contributer!

    • What a beautiful, encouraging reply. Motherhood is amazing, isn’t it? I’ve been wrestling with the same things, but also finding more joy and fulfillment in those microcosmic things. And to Katie, yes, as your kids get older it opens up more space in your brain for other things. Hallelujah!

    • Beautiful response, CB. I had a difficult time (to put it mildly) staying home with the twins. I tried for almost two years and then went to grad school for a “break.” But I got my shit together and was able to do what you said: understand it’s about “being” and not “doing.” (It helps to have only one baby to “be” with at a time, I will say…) I’ve felt so lucky to experience staying at home with my daughter. Rarely do people ever experience what it’s like to exist simultaneously with another being, which is what I do with Sola. The window for living this way is brief and I’m grateful for the chance. The timing has to be right and it’s not for everyone, but it certainly is an incredible, rare experience.

  2. Well, I did get to the end of your post, but I must confess, I did NOT get to the end of that monster comment above me. Wowza.

    Anyway, I can’t assure you that your brain will eventually come back, although I’m sure it will. But I can assure you that your ability as a writer has not declined and that it’s okay if you feel worn out and tired and need a break sometimes. We’ll be around when you come back. And geez louise, tell us funny stories about the crazy things your kids do and the motherly shortcuts you’ve found to get through the day – such as playing WWF while breastfeeding. For some reason, that detail cracked. me. up.

    • Ha. Glad you made it to the end. And I apologize to all my WWF buddies who now have to have a visual of me breastfeeding. 😉

    • I’m so glad. Now go teach the youths. So they will stop stealing the tires of people’s cars. (Do you watch New Girl? ‘Cause if you don’t, you probably won’t get that joke.

  3. I got an iphone about a month ago, and it has changed my life in some scary ways. I’ve found that I have to make a VERY conscious effort to maintain the boundaries of common decency, at times. One blog I read suggested having a bowl at your front door and challenging friends and family to, “Be with the ones who are here”, by leaving distracting technology items in said bowl and choosing the gift of presence, instead. I love this idea, and though I’ve yet to implement it, I find myself repeating “Be with the ones who are here” as a mantra.

    P.S. Don’t all bfing moms play some sort of “with friends” game? 🙂

    • I love the cell phone bowl idea. I just don’t know if anyone would ever agree to visit me again! We do have that rule for dinnertime, which has been very freeing and good– even though Miles can hardly sit at the table for fifteen minutes before getting antsy. 🙂

  4. Pingback: FAQs, first quarter | [writing] between friends

Add to the discussion! We read and appreciate EVERY comment, though we aren't always able to reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s