Sunday, 22 April 2012

Forgotten baby syndrome: How information overload is blunting our most fundamental instinct

Doctors and psychologists regularly sing that we're trying to do too much; that the modern adult juggles too many things each day.  On hearing this we usually nod our heads in agreement and say something like "Yeah I need to slow down" as a token of acknowledgement.  We then continue to live life as we were, dismissing their advice as inconsequential or as something that cannot be used in the real world.  After all, how does one just slow their life down?  Modern life is hectic like that; it's not your fault, right?

Whether you feel it's your fault or not, it's coming to the point where there will be little option.  A trend is prevailing for example where busy parents are regularly forgetting about their toddlers in cars, unintentionally leaving them home alone, or leaving public places like takeaways without their babies in tow.  In what would be the worst possible nightmare come true for any parent, Virginia veterinarian Dr Karen Murphy left her son in her car for seven hours, thinking he was at the nursery all the while.  When the chilling realisation dawned upon her, two year old Ryan was already dead and she now faces charges of murder and child neglect.

An article by Daily Mail is calling this unthinkable phenomenon "a tragic consequence of our frenetic lifestyles and increasingly cluttered minds."  The most fundamental instinct in parents is being blunted because their minds are cripplingly overloaded with information and tasks they need to act on.

They say that there have been 600 fatal incidences of Forgotten Baby Syndrome in the U.S. since 1990, but my concern is that this will rise sharply worldwide in the next few years, given how much busier and pre-occupied adults are.  Each year there's even more information filling our heads, more to-do's, more goals, more meetings, more projects, more hours at the office...and this relentless march towards more of everything is disorienting people to the point where they don't know whether they're coming or going any more.

Most have too much happening in their lives for their minds to successfully process everything, and this means your brain starts to prioritise some things and blank out others.  But your brain isn't perfect at prioritising and sometimes something important (like the location of your child) slips through the cracks as you become pre-occupied with that project deadline, review with your boss or even your anniversary dinner plans.

People live like hamsters on an exercise wheel: They wake up and just start running around the whole day without giving much thought as to why they're doing it or how they can slow it down: they just get up and sprint, no questions asked.  We're losing the essence of being human and are becoming more drone-like by the day.   Even if you aren't a parent ask yourself:

• Do you easily forget the names of people?
• Do you find that time is flying by way too fast?
• Are you in constant anticipation and fear of deadlines and incomplete tasks?

Now it's time for reflection and introspection because we seriously need to make a concerted effort to slow down instead of simply accepting this lifestyle as "the way it is."  Commonly there are two main culprits we can finger:

Culprit #1: Work
Very few people are wired to be high flying corporate slaves that work sixteen hour days...most just accept that this is the only way they can make a living.  I will stick my neck out and proclaim that in the overwhelming number of cases it's work that's the main cause of an overwhelmed, forgetful mind.  Work demands more out of us that anything else: it extracts the most time, the most thought and the most energy.  It's the first thing to re-examine if you are stressed, forgetful or anxious.  And if you find work is the culprit (for most people it will be) you need to make plans towards becoming independent of your company or boss, and start making inroads daily towards becoming self-employed.

The problem with working for someone else is you end up being driven by fear and obligation to the extent that you unconsciously put the well being of yourself and family behind that of your company's.  You're scared of incurring the wrath of your manager or missing out on that promotion/increase.  This constant daily scrutiny conditions you to place work before all else.

Being self-employed is no cake walk, but it provides you with more control over your time and the power to prioritise personal errands (like dropping/fetching your child from the nursery) without fear of repercussion from a slave driving manager.  As your own boss you can tailor your livelihood around your personal life; as a salaried worker you tailor your personal life around your job.

Culprit #2: Information glut
We are forgetting much more because our heads are relentlessly pumped with information for as long as we're awake.  A constant stream of emails, instant messages on our smartphones and relentless requests/orders means your mind doesn't rest for even two minutes.  When we're not dealing with electronic communication, we listen to music, surf the internet or watch TV in our moments of leisure.

The mind never has the space to breathe as it is always forced to process or observe something.  Your brain needs a daily time-out, and sleep doesn't count.  While you're awake, you need to have periods where you are simply listening to the trees whistle against the wind or watching the ocean waves lap the rocks, nothing more.  The brain needs time to observe silence and it will only get this time if you consciously allocate it each day.

For those who glorify multi-tasking and the busy non-stop life, take this as a warning.  There's nothing glamourous about being forgetful, living with high blood pressure and walking around feeling perpetually restless.  Slowing down doesn't mean you're lazy or lack ambition; it means you have the presence of mind to stand back and realise that the way we're living is rendering life itself pointless.

Subscribe by Email