How long is the longest text you’ve read in the past few months? That dreadfully tedious chapter from an econometrics textbook? Or an unbearably dense biochemistry paper? Or an impenetrable philosophical essay? Be it as it may, I bet you’ve been distracted by notifications from your WhatsApp, or you’ve checked your Facebook sporadically just to get a moment of rest.

But is it rest? Does switching between tabs and apps really invigorate your perception when you head back to the text you were studying? You may think so, but recent studies show that’s a grave mistake. Incessant clicking leads to us having an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish (9:12 seconds, fish wins). People check their phones 85 times a day on average. They do it in short bursts of less than 30 seconds. Which has the worst possible effect.

Now, how long is the longest train of thought you’ve sustained lately? The deepest problem with the deluge of irrelevant information and being glued to screens compulsively, is that it worsens the quality of your consciousness. It makes you unable to sustain attention. I’ve experienced it many times when succumbing to reading on my iPad rather than picking up a printed book before sleep.

Are things truly that bad? Are we all to blame? Not exactly. Our attention resources are very constrained, biologically. So it may be that it’s not that technology is shrinking our attention spans, but that our culture encourages us to let more spam in.

Multitasking and switching between media creates motion which we are tempted to mistake for action. You have the illusion that you’re accomplishing more with this massive parallel processing. Your To Do list looks like a hamburger. Tasks are stacked on top of each other, jammed into one time slot. For better or for worse, we do our best in serial mode. One task at a time. So I’m afraid we have to make do with ‘nuggeted’ schedules – chew through one task diligently, then move on to the next. Gobbling down a hamburger in one go is bound to give you cramp. Or a headache and irritability, if you dump too much spam into your attention span.