I have ADHD. Seems like everyone does these days. I’m a card carrying ADHD’er – combined type, which means I fall into the categories of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Usually, this means my mind is spinning 24/7 and I’ll have bursts of energy leading to projects that get two thirds of the way complete. My Mother used to say I’d go at something 110% for a bit and get bored. It’s hard to focus when so many interesting things are saying, “Look at me, Laura!”
As a psychologist and someone who specializes in ADHD education and empowerment, I often get question from folks about whether this or that is an indication the person or loved one has ADHD. Usually it’s an inattention symptom – “I just can’t read books like I used to – do you think I have ADHD?” or “My husband is always on his phone when we’re watching tv and we don’t talk anymore. Could this be ADHD?” I think these are valid concerns.
Over the past decade, our world has turned digital. And more than that, we gradually shifted to shorter and shorter snippets of content. Think back to 10 years ago (I was a mere 33 years old). According to Entrepreneur, you might have been logging into MySpace with Internet Explorer and dreaming about getting your first iPhone. In a general sense, the internet wasn’t very interesting or accessible because no one had smart phones or was creating content. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American in 2007 spent most of their time outside of work running errands and other household duties, socializing with friends or through sports, and talking on the phone (probably a portable landline, I think my Mom still has one). These days, our socializing consists of sharing pictures on Facebook (is that still cool?), acting out the latest weird texting trend, and hiding out behind our phones.
I remember hearing about the paradox of choice in grad school. The basic idea is that when you have less choice, choice is easier. When you have more choice, choice is paralyzing. Just try to find something on the 200+ cable channels. The same goes with web content – early on, the main choice was AOL. We longed for those discs promising greater and greater free hours of log on time. It was our go-to for all content and, c’mon, if you’re of a certain age, you spent a lot of time on this website. But now, you click the button on your phone and the apps, websites, blogs, podcasts, etc. are endless. And they are BITESIZE and PROVOCATIVE. Because content creators and advertisers know that they have to compete for your attention. So they don’t want to bore and thus lose you. We didn’t start this way – it’s been a slow progression. It’s starting to turn around some (there’s a movement towards “evergreen” original content such as this blog) but here we are. If you didn’t organically have attention issues, technology has created them for you.
So how do you tell the difference between ADHD and culturally created attention issues? ADHD shows up in far more places and has a specific pattern to it. If an ADHD’er unplugs, their attention issues get better but they still have problems if untreated. The best option is to seek the advice of a psychologist with a specialty in ADHD or psychological testing. Resolute also has solutions for families struggling with these issues – and especially in the context of addiction treatment and recovery. The net result is still the same – in order to improve our abilities to focus and be mindful with our partners, we have to take it upon ourselves to retrain our brains.
What do you think? Do you have another theory? I’d like to learn from your input.
Also published on Medium.