It is not a natural act, or socially friendly, to wander down the flour-and-sugar aisle at the grocery store with a device up against your ear – or in it – sharing a loud and unwanted half a conversation with everyone within earshot.

“Hmm. Really?”

A few seconds of blessed silence.

Then, “Yeah, I know she said that, but what can I do? It’s just like that one time when …”

Three ticks of silence.

“Well, she never liked me anyway.”

Which is worse, the thoughtless social intrusion or hearing half a melodrama? We can turn on reality TV or politics for that and get the whole thing.

It’s not a natural act, or socially friendly, to go to the effort of attending a meeting and then spending half of that time staring into one’s lap and tap-tap-tapping on the messages on one’s phone.

This sends a variety of interesting messages, intended or not: I’m more important than this speaker or this topic. I’m bored. I’m just multitasking, like everyone else.

Yes, we all try to multitask, but it is foolishness. Brains can focus well on one thing at a time, and I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. It might be evolution doing us a favor.

I’m not sure it’s the natural state of things – and it’s certainly socially unfriendly – to be focused and working away at one’s computer and then have a video ad with loudly talking audio plop onto your screen and invade your brain space. I deeply respect the fact that making a buck is what makes the world go round – sorry, love lost that battle a long time ago – but these electronic annoyances conjured up by bots and algorithms are hurting the cause. You can almost feel your own attention span being chopped into bits.

Where was I?

It’s a natural impulse, but one heck of a distraction, to Google and fact-check our every conversation in real time. The promise of the internet was once that it would elevate knowledge, understanding, discourse and debate. It’s good for settling bar bets, but the rest hasn’t worked out so well.

We surround ourselves with more gadgets, more feeds, more data, more noise. Some are early adopters and have to have the shiny, cool and new, but most are just trying to keep up. It’s to the point that if you don’t hop on Facebook every hour, people think you’ve gone Amish. Which doesn’t sound half bad, by the way.

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: As a species, our cleverness vastly outpaces our wisdom. We yearn for balance in these things, but what does balance even look like? And who’s in charge here, we humans or the devices to which we are so happily tethered?

– Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter: @FoxEJC