A Culture of Distraction

By Francisco Sáez • June 25, 2012

“We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We expect more from technology and less from each other.” ~ Dr. Sherry Turkle, Sociologist

This weekend I have read (and listented to) a very interesting article by Joe Kraus (@jkraus) on how modern technology is affecting—not always in a positive way—to our productivity and relationships with others. Specifically, smartphones are imposing a way of life that is a constant distraction. This video comercial is quite illustrative as well as funny:

Emails, notifications, tweets, whatsapps, texts, calls… We are getting used to jump from task to task every few minutes and we find it increasingly difficult to stay concentrated on a single task for a long time. Attention is something that must be trained, and this blast of interruptions produces the opposite effect. It impairs our ability to concentrate.

Of course, this has a number of negative consequences:

  • Our creativity decreases. When we have a free time slot, which our brain could use for thinking, analyzing problems and finding solutions, we prefer to check our email or watch what is going on Twitter. We access the Internet 27 times a day on average.
  • Our efficiency decreases. The fact of moving our attention from one thing to another rapidly makes us 40% less efficient in what we are doing. Besides losing a precious amount of time, we are more prone to make mistakes and complete our projects with a lower quality than we should.
  • Our productivity decreases. Multi-tasking does not exist. Although it may seem possible, our brain is not able to focus on two tasks at the same time, it is just able to move its attention from one task to another very quickly. The more you train your brain to do this, the less ability to concentrate on getting things done you have. No matter how good you are organizing your GTD system if you fail miserably in the doing stage.
  • Our relationships with others get worse, because our manners do not show due consideration for them. By looking incessantly at our smartphone while we are having a conversation with someone, we are transmitting to that person that any trifle is more important than her conversation and presence.

It is really hard not to pay attention to a new stimulus. When the phone sounds because someone has posted a comment on our Facebook wall, how to resist? If we have a new mail, it will be probably spam or, at least, something we can see and answer later. In fact there is little chance it is something urgent. But there is a possibility, so we feel pushed to look at it now.

Smartphones (and tablets) are amazing devices that allow us to do many things that were unthinkable few years ago. And since they are in our pockets all the time, they have also become a sort of lifestyle.

Let us seize the advantages of technology and discard the drawbacks of addiction. It is worrying that young people today receive and send between 3000 and 4000 messages per month. I do not think it is necessary or good to get interrupted every 7 minutes.

In the article I am talking about, the author suggests some exercises to nurture our ability to concentrate, such as disconnecting totally from time to time, slowing down the pace of life and practicing exercises that require certain concentration during a good amount of time.

I also suggest you to disable all the notifications generated by your smartphone, tablet, email and social networks. Instead of being interrupted by every bullshit, establish 2 or 3 moments in your day to check your email, your feeds, your Twitter timeline and the rest. Are you worried that you might miss something important? No way. If something is really urgent, someone will know how to contact you.

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About the author

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Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

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