Saturday, June 15, 2024

Technology is stealing our attention 

By Daniela Raymond

In the past century, millions of Americans have been stolen from. Our ability to focus on a screen or anything for more than 10 minutes has been stolen by technology and social media. 

Today it is rare to find someone not associated with a mobile cellphone or some other form of technology. Smartphones have become a necessity that stays at the top of the survival pyramid. You’ll almost never find someone waiting for the bus or train without a phone, scrolling away. This has become a new norm and is even expected. A time when people would exchange compliments or acts of kindness or initiate conversations with strangers has been lost. 

The cost of losing productivity isn’t the only downfall of a short attention span. Studies have shown that lack of focus and interruptions also raise stress and anxiety. Throughout the day we are exposed to multiple avenues of information. Notification pings constantly distract you from your point of focus. 

Getting distracted is nothing new. Naturally, our focus is intensified and dulled depending on a list of factors. But the combination of distractions inherent to society today can make a very effective attention drainer. 

Today we are essentially living in a room filled with distractions 24/7 due to competing demands and temptations of phones, social media and the internet. 

A study of college students found that they can only focus on one task for 65 seconds and office workers for an average of 3 minutes at a time. 

We’ve been made to believe that we as a society are too weak to control our minds long enough to focus. Stay off your phone…just focus and unplug for a day, but are these things really in our control? 

No, your attention is not failing you because you are not in control or not strong-willed. Your attention is failing you because it’s been stolen. 

We’ve been programmed to think that as long as we can get our work done with these technological distractions, it isn’t really affecting our work, but unfortunately, it is. The “switch-cost effect” explains that if you check your phone while doing work, not only are you losing the 30 seconds it took to check your phone, but you’ve also lost the extra time it takes to refocus afterward. 

Carnegie Mellon University performed a study where 136 students sat to take a test. Half of the students had their phones and received messages during the exam, while the other half had no phones. The students with their phones performed 20% worse on average. So essentially, we are losing that 20% of brain power during everyday tasks. 

We are gradually slipping away from reality, living in a world where we are all alone, even in a crowd of people. The ability to pay attention is cracking and breaking, and this attention crisis is creating huge ramifications for how we live our lives. 

Technology and how it affects people’s attention span isn’t an issue we can fix in one day or even one article. It is critical to strike a balance between embracing technology’s advantages and averting its drawbacks.

 

1 Comment

  1. Excellent points. There are so many gifts that technology provides, but the pitfalls and concerns are very real. I recently read Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019) by Cal Newport. It is an essential read, a must read for every knowledge worker, student, and tech user.

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