Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 03/10/24 2:07 PM

Column: All who wander are lost but happily so

The Popcorn Brain syndrome

Tech terminology has unleashed another kicker  on us, telling us all about  the popcorn brain and how to avoid developing one. The term refers to a multitude of  kernel-like thoughts jostling about in one`s brain, rather than one or more substantial concepts. It  was coined by a researcher at the University of Washington`s Information School, and defines what we know already: that we now take in so much information, a seamless blend of consequential data and inconsequential flotsam and jetsam, that our brain has lost or is fast losing the power to filter out what really doesn’t  matter. With so many pieces of popcorn popping in our brain, there isn’t much space for the clear, well-thought-out idea or opinion.

Earlier, the message was  clear: All who wander are not lost. Don’t panic if you’ve taken a detour. Stop to smell the roses,  you will soon find your way back again.

No longer. Now, all those who wander are lost.

The solution to this popcorn brain syndrome follows a familiar template: to detox, to limit time on social media, to actively seek more meaningful exchanges with the Internet, as well as offline with people, animals, nature.

Of course, it is no one`s contention that we ought to quit the digital world to reclaim the analogue life. We know that just wouldn’t work. Now that the infamous algorithm has got its manky  claws deep into us, quitting doesn’t seem like an option.

The point is, it isn’t easy to stop going down the rabbit hole all of us are familiar with. We want a break, so we go to social media, fall down many rabbit holes,  and spend two whole hours chasing perfectly useless info.  Like how many dressmakers worked on Radhika Merchant`s Versace outfit, how exactly that one type of spinach helps regrow your dying brain cells, whether Taylor Swift is really working to help Biden win, if SRK needs to be cancelled after his dissing of Ram Charan. And if Orry is now a bosom buddy of RiRi.

Let`s face it, in this age of quick returns, the rabbit hole appears infinitely more rewarding than reading the painful and sometimes convoluted details of what`s happening at the Gyanvapi mosque, doing the math on the shifting sands of electoral alliances, absorbing heart-rending longform pieces about the situation on the ground  in Rafah.

So, we actively seek those kernels of light information that entertain us for a whole three- and- a- half minutes.

And if this activity results in a classic bheja fry, no one seems to care. If it leads to a shrinking brain that eschews sustained deep discussion, reading books, doubling down on a project that is giving you trouble, even then, no one seems to care.

But of course we should. Care, I mean. We should heed all warnings, train our attention on  the evils of a popcorn brain, slowly get ourselves out of this addictive maze. Seek help, if we must.

Then again,  enough with all the finger-wagging, all the dire admonitions, all the monumental judging. Because I`m not sure people really want to digitally detox. Far too many of us are addicted to Shouting Heads, news dramatically delivered, song, dance, fervent religious chants,  and Kapil Sharma. Those of us who seek substantial news and views know just where to find them. As regards those who refuse any deep-dive exercise, well that too should be a freedom to claim. It`s really your call.

This ran in the  Sunday Express Magazine of 10 March 2024.

Related Links:

Guest column: Don`t Tar All Media with the Same Brush

Guest column: Doggone it, I say!

Guest column: In praise of gratitude

Guest column: Selective offerings in the time of cancel culture


columnflotsam and jetsamPopcorn Brainrandom thoughtsThe New Sunday Express MagazineTNIE

Sheila Kumar • March 10, 2024

Previous Post

Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *