Friday, April 12, 2013

I left it in the living room

The scene:  Baby Boomer working diligently at her desk.  She’s concentrating, writing, editing, rewriting, working toward deadline.  She’s a master.  A wizard.   

Then, a pause.  She pushes away from her keyboard, jumps to her feet and dashes - dashes mind you - downstairs into the living room to get … something.   

Something very important.  

Something warranting a dash for goodness sake. 

What the heck did she go there for?!!! 

Then, because the room looks familiar but the goal remains enigmatic, resignation sets in.  Shoulders sag.  She must turn and climb the stairs with a little wrinkle in her brow while reviewing the circumstances of her journey.  She retraces her steps in faint hope of regenerating the same urgency she felt so … urgently just moments ago. 

Let’s see…I was sitting right here.  Writing my column.  Then I jumped up and ran to the living room for…for…Dang it!  Why did I get up and run out of the room?! 

She tries to calm herself.  It’s no big deal, she says.  Everyone does that, right?  We’re all jumping up from our desks, hurrying around the house pointedly seeking something, only to have to shrug, abandon the mission and settle down again.   

Perhaps it’s not material, but an esoteric sort of metaphysical thing we seek.  Inner meaning.  Purpose of life.  No need to prowl the world, thank God, when peace of mind is within your own home, your metaphorical self.  Perhaps our built-in internal yearning for depth of experience compels us … OK.  I’m not buying it either.  

Pretty sure it was more mundane than that.  I was probably looking for that new pencil with the fresh eraser I just bought at…where’d I get that thing?  More important, where’d I put that thing?  I don’t know.  Doesn’t matter.  Look!  A squirrel!  

But so what?  Everyone misplaces her car keys now and then.  No need to worry until you misplace your car!  Let me just check.  Yep, it’s there, safe in the garage. 

I’m OK, I tell ya!  

But you can see why I glommed onto “brain games” with millions of other Boomers.   

Thank God, I thought.  These intellectual games will save my withered walnut of a brain from further shrinkage!  If I race around these mental agility wheels frantically enough I won’t have to careen around the house like a pinball.  Sign me up.  I’ll do it! 

I jumped in with both lobes.  I couldn’t wait for the “positive and often remarkable results” including “better face-name recall, faster problem-solving skills and a quicker memory.” 

Oh yeah, just 10-15 minutes a day of synapse gymnastics will “reorganize my brain by confronting it with new challenges,” thereby improving my ability “to dynamically allocate attention,” not to mention split infinitives.  

I began to feel top heavy in a hurry. 

But wait.  What’s this from the NewYorker?  “Brain Games are Bogus.”  

Uh oh. 

See that headline’s a problem for me.  I’ve devoted some serious time to feeling all good and smug about my calisthenics for neuroplasticity.  I have an emotional investment in brain games.  These brain games may be the final fragile filament holding my pale gray matter intact!  You can’t take away my brain games!  

And what does the New Yorker know anyway?  

Oh, right.  They collected information from analysts at the University of Oslo and Georgia Tech who investigated claims made in the multi-million dollar brain game industry and came up with a pretty big goose egg.  

Sure, they say, diligent hours of playing games supposedly designed to improve “working memory and fluid intelligence” does produce growth in one’s performance on those games.   

But that’s it.  The scientists who gathered all of the best research—twenty-three investigations of memory training by teams around the world—and employed a standard statistical technique (called meta-analysis) conclude:  "The games may yield improvements in the narrow task being trained, but this does not transfer to broader skills like the ability to read or do arithmetic, or to other measures of intelligence.” 

In short, “Playing the games makes you better at the games … but not at anything anyone might care about in real life." 

Well that’s just great.   

Excuse me for a moment.  I have to get something from the living room.