Read Me (Only)

December 4, 2006

The invasion is complete. Computers have successfully infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including the very way we speak and think. I'm not just talking about "Googling," where techno-jargon has crept into our vocabulary. No, computers have had a much more insidious impact on us as a species, reaching deep into our collective psyche and tinkering with the clockwork. They have redefined what it means to be human.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our obsession with multitasking, a concept that is itself a product of the computer age. Since the dawn of the microcomputer, we are no longer content to do one thing at a time. Instead, we feel the need to watch television while we eat, read the newspaper while we drive, browse the Internet while we work, and talk on our cell phones while we do virtually everything else. Computers aid us in this frenzied existence by allowing us to take on a limitless number of virtual tasks at once—at least in theory. The fact is, computers aren't very good at multitasking; they're only slightly better at it than we are.

Computers are like us: they can really only do one thing at a time. That's because we designed them with the same limitation that we have: a single, one-track mind. In the computer world, this grey matter is called a central processing unit. Though little more than a glorified calculator, a modern CPU clocks in at more than two billion calculations per second. But even at that speed, it can only do one discreet operation at a time, and not even continuously. Overwork it, and it's likely to overheat and melt into a useless lump of fried silicon.

The human brain—another relatively useless lump—pales in comparison to even the most modest CPU. With clock speeds that make CPU relics like the original Pentium look like racehorses, the brain doesn't stand a chance against modern processors. And like the CPU, the brain is, for all practical purposes, a sequential instrument. Despite claims to the contrary, it is capable of doing little more at once than the proverbial walking and chewing of gum. Like the CPU, the brain requires a staggering amount of downtime to avoid burnout—generally between seven and nine hours per night depending on the brand and speed.

Continue to Creating the Illusion