There are studies, depending on which one you pick, that suggest “smartphone-users touch their device somewhere between twice a minute to once every seven minutes.” It just doesn’t end here, “we’re spending over 4 hours a day on smartphones,” as pointed in a story earlier.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s no denying if you disconnect from technology, you get trapped in the mess of your lifestyle. As it’s not just technology, it more has got into our way of living. It’s kind of an integration where technology and lifestyle go hand in hand.
Digital distractions are challenging human mind with their ability to control our attention. Was this the purpose of introducing technology to human life? Has technology served its purpose? We, humans, created technology to assist us in our daily life, improve our lifestyle and enhance our work cycle. But, technology has turned wild — it made us feel like that it is dictating how we communicate, work, travel, read, write, invest, buy and above all, live. It is overriding our lives.
Innovations drive the world, and with it, we evolve. The world wide web is a crazy maze of the network where one thing leads to another. Put it simply, technology is something without which we cannot think of survival anymore. We have come this far.
Let me tell you a good story. Today, just like all other days, I’ve been writing an article. As a usual practice, the first thing I do is to open the inbox and check my mails. Even if nothing is really relevant there for the day, I get through all the e-mails to figure if something that makes sense to me. Then, I open another inbox of a different account, which is connected to all my social media accounts. There are some invites from strangers on LinkedIn among other platforms. Several notifications updates and other stuff related or unrelated. By this time around 15 minutes have already passed by. Then I get tempted to check some posts, and like, comment and share if needed.
It’s imperative as we come across ideas, and understand how people think and react. Which could be an investment of time, not a waste of time. Then I skip to Facebook, which is truly exhaustive. By the time all this ends it has stolen around 45 minutes to an hour of my writing time. And mind you, this doesn’t end here, this happens throughout the day, I am tempted to visit LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Inbox and WhatsApp among others.
I’m clearly distracted — this is something more than getting distracted — it’s disrupting one’s attention.
Why am I calling it disruption? In a paper published by Nelson DL and Goodman LB titled, Disrupting attention: the need for retrieval cues in working memory theories, they mention, “Sometimes in conversation, something is said that causes us to want to comment, but before our impending but implicit thoughts can be expressed, the conversation is disrupted. Later, we cannot recall what we wanted to say, but still later, we can.”
The same thing happens to us when we impulsively get attracted to something else than the work in hand. That something else which is not important to us at that time, then pulls our attention so aggressively, that we forget our work that has high priority.
The impulsive shift of attention from something important to something unimportant leading us forgetting our priority is a disruption — what we call, distraction.
In the year ’15, Microsoft published a report revealing the widespread use of smartphones has resulted in deterioration of attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today. It also claimed that even a goldfish has better attention span than humans. It insisted that attention span of goldfish is 9 seconds. The report, on the other side, did suggest that our ability to multitask has drastically improved in the mobile age.
It could be our work or something related to our life, distractions are affecting us all and affecting each aspect of our life.
We may be about to sleep, and since we don’t get sleep immediately, we turn to our phone and keep exploring blogs, gossip columns, latest pictures of celebrities on Instagram, or start chatting with someone on WhatsApp. We don’t get sleep as we are engaged in these activities. We get so pulled into all this that we forget that we resorted to our phone not to avoid sleep, but to get sleep. We compromise our sleep with paying attention to other stuff available 24*7 on our smartphone which is getting updated every second.
To the other side, you might argue that it’s just convenient to pay all our bills online, order food, grocery, clothes, footwear and even, lingerie online. More so, trying to match the sale timings on Flipkart or Amazon. We can now order almost anything online. There is no denying to this, and there’s a lot more to that. Amazon certainly has to be proud of the fact that it’s managed to deliver in remotest areas like Leh in India.
And if one day you can’t connect to the internet, you won’t be able to do any of those. How frustrated you are going to be, aren’t you? We see news online too, that means we wouldn’t get access to any news if we can’t connect to the net. This is all attractive, convenient and a new way to live. But, what is the price that we are paying for this new lifestyle?
Clearly, we cannot focus on one thing at a time. During the entire day while working or doing something else, we get distracted impulsively. Suppose while reading a book or working on a presentation, some notification on the mobile pops, we almost impulsively check it. Then we get back to what we were doing, but just within few minutes, another notification pops up. How is it possible to focus with so many distractions?
When the link breaks and focus shifts, there is no continuity nor concentration, so if you are reading something, the desire to get into the depth of the subject or idea just vanishes.
Consequently, we’re just skimming information, we aren’t concentrating wholly on any activity. This divided attention could be called multitasking, but some things need undivided attention, and technology is stealing this privilege.
We are in the age of attention where the skill to focus is becoming rare and the freedom to choose where to focus our attention is being stolen. With each distraction, we are paying a cost. This cost is clearly something valuable to us on which we should focus. But, we are engaging in unproductive activities, and at the end of the day, only our day cycle doesn’t exhaust us, rather, this divided attention more leads to exhaustion of energy.
Just an experiment that each one of us should give a try to. Suppose you have a task at hand, and you concentrate on it for some next hours without any distractions. You could take a creative break where you close your eyes and relax, or listen to music, or do anything that provides you with peace of mind. Only at the end of the task, you go back to checking your phone and do whatever you do more often. You would realise that you aren’t tired and you have finished off the task at hand much earlier. You get a feeling that you’ve achieved something worthwhile.
Alternatively, if you continue to be distracted, it keeps on draining you. Your mind is something that you control, let the technology not dictate what you do with your time.
If we don’t get a hold of our mind, technology will soon rule our mind.
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