Frazzled gray matter

It’s just past 11 p.m. on a recent weeknight, and I’ve finally turned off my computer, put the finishing touches on tomorrow’s to-do list and settled down on the couch for a relaxing hour with my husband, cats, a nightcap and some mindless TV.

Oh, yeah, and my iPhone and iPad, too.

“Do you ever shut your brain off?” my husband asks as I flip between friends’ status updates on one device while playing a round of Words With Friends on the other. “Should I go get you your laptop, too?”

Ha, ha—very funny. Only, it’s kind of not.

What I like to think of as multitasking—quality time with the family! Catching up on Project Runway All Stars! Triple-word score!—is actually, perhaps, veritable proof that my brain is disintegrating into overdrive-induced shards of frazzled gray matter.

Attention span? What attention span?

Seriously. It’s hard to remember the last time I sat down and was one with the moment much less focused on a singular task or endeavor.

And, apparently, I can blame it on Angry Birds.

Not that I’ve ever played that smartphone game, but by all accounts, it’s a bulls-eye target for the argument that our iPhones and Droids are redefining how we fill the empty spaces in our days, nights and everything in between.

In recent years, such games have exploded in popularity. Angry Birds, Apple’s best-selling app to date, reportedly sucks up 200 million minutes of our collective time every day.

And that’s just a nanosecond in time if you look at the overall picture. Whether it’s one of the endless variations on Angry Birds or Words With Friends, Infinity Blade, Fruit Ninja or—God help me—Farmville, such mobile games are high-scoring away our ability to turn off, tune out and just relax already.

Writer Sam Anderson explored the phenomenon in the latest New York Times Magazine.

“[These games] are designed to push their way through the cracks of other occasions,” Anderson writes in “Just One More Game.” “We play them incidentally, ambivalently, compulsively, almost accidentally. They’re less an activity in our day than a blank space in our day; less a pursuit than a distraction from other pursuits.”

True, that.

As I write this, I’m playing no fewer than two-dozen games on my iPhone or iPad. There are at least 10 rounds in Words With Friends, half-a-dozen Scramble With Friends matches and three Hanging With Friends bouts. Oh, yeah, and eight rounds of Draw Something.

No wonder I have trouble falling asleep at night. Indeed, no matter how exhausted I seem to be, as soon as my head hits the pillow, my brain starts racing. Sometimes I’m mulling over various real-life problems but lately, more often than I really care to admit, I’m thinking about various word strategies or the best way to illustrate the word “break-up.” And don’t even get me started on trying to watch TV or read a book—my head reflexively jerks away from the entertainment in front of me whenever I hear my phone or tablet buzz.

I know—it’s kind of sad. I tell myself such games are ways to keep my mind sharp, but I suspect they’re really doing the opposite: pulverizing it into an exhausted pile of mush. I can’t blame it all on technology—I’ve always been fidgety and found it difficult to unwind and shut off my brain; it’s just now all these mobile games seem to add to my brainwave disturbances instead of mollifying them.

Of course, I’d spend more time worrying about it but my phone just vibrated with another notification—it’s finally my turn again.

Game on.