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A recent New York Times article quoting researchers suggesting the existence of a possible new attention disorder has me wondering if I’ll soon have a “diagnosis.” It seems that the condition, named “sluggish cognitive tempo” (I’m not making that up) is characterized by “lethargy, daydreaming, and slow cognitive process.”  Oh, really? Daydreaming is a symptom?  Well then, count me as a sufferer.

I spent a lot of my youth daydreaming. I daydreamed in school, especially during math class, a condition that probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve became a historian who doesn’t use a lot of quantitative big-data tools.  As I listened to rock music, trying to learn the lyrics, I’d daydream about getting up on stage with the band, hitting my tambourine and singing along (without a mic, since I’m tone deaf).  I went to the beach as often as I could and tried to study the waves so I could improve my body surfing skills.  I’d lose focus and daydream about becoming an accomplished big board surfer and spending a life in Hawaii—a place I’d never seen.

The condition persists. As an adult approaching the Medicare years, I like to be a car passenger or take public transit so I can look out the window and daydream. I imagine myself back at the beach or up on stage with one of those ageless bands. 

I have never felt afflicted by daydreaming or by my slow cognitive tempo; I’ve loved it.  I’ve imagined my way to all kinds of historical insights. Daydreaming in the shower is where I get ideas for the blog posts I write about public health. I think slowly even as questions are now answered (not always correctly) by a quick check of Google, as contacts with others are a click or a text away, and as thoughts are no longer fleeting, but Tweeted.

Will those of us who like to daydream soon find ourselves medicated? Or pitied?  Maybe those with speedy cognitive tempos will look up from their devices and see us tethered only to our imaginations, and suggest that we seek help. (Great idea for a drug commercial, right?)  Maybe right-wing pundits will complain that the pharmaceutical bills for folks like us are costing taxpayers too much.  Maybe left-wing commentators will promise that with help we’ll become productive, tax-paying citizens.  And what will we daydreamers be doing as all this concern is being voiced? We’ll be traveling through time and space envisioning the impossible—slowly and joyfully. 

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  • Chris L. April 20, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks for this, Janet. I had similar thoughts when I read that piece in the NYT,but yours are elegant and profound at the same time.

  • Roz Warren April 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Great post. Having my daydreams medically extinguished would be a nightmare.