It should be noted that this problem of split-screen consciousness is likely to get worse in the era of divided government, not better. It won’t just be the president laying claim to our attention, but also those who are holding him to account. Even if our government were a paradigm of functionality, we’d surely be fighting for custody of our brains. In 2016, before Trump was elected, Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, examined the daily habits of 40 information workers. She discovered they checked their email 77 times per day, on average, and slalomed between screens every 47 seconds.
Many evolutionary biologists are fond of pointing out that the human body is not adapted to modern life, which often involves sitting for hours at a time and toiling in artificial light and consuming mounds of processed sugar (“There’s no food in your food,” as the Joan Cusack character says in “Say Anything”). But the same design problem, it could be argued, is true of the human brain: It was not engineered to process the volume of information we’re getting, and at the rate we’re getting it.