The Culture of DistractionAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
"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
We are at the moment in history in which human beings are more connected than ever. No previous generation has had to face a similar situation.
This high degree of connectivity has transformed our way of working and, in general, our way of living. We relate and communicate differently. We even think differently.
Modern technology and smartphones are imposing a way of life in which distractions are a constant. Email, social network notifications, whatsapps, alerts, etc. compete to catch your attention every second.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to stay focused on the same task for a long time. With so many distractions, you get more and more used to jumping from task to task every few minutes. Attention is something to be trained, and this avalanche of interruptions produces the opposite effect. It impairs your ability to concentrate.
Although always being connected provides you with many advantages and greater security, it can have a number of negative consequences if not managed properly:
- Your creativity decreases. When you have some free time, which your brain could use to think creatively, analyze problems and look for solutions, it’s more likely that now you spend it checking email or seeing what’s happening on Twitter. In 2019 humans spend an average of 170 minutes a day connected to the internet.
- Your efficiency decreases. Moving your attention from one thing to another quickly makes you 40% less efficient in what you’re doing. In addition to wasting a great deal of time, you are more likely to make mistakes and finish your projects with a lower quality than you could achieve with full attention.
- Your productivity decreases. Multi-tasking does not exist. Your brain is not capable of concentrating on two tasks at the same time, although it seems like it, because it’s capable of moving its attention from one task to another at high speed. The more you train your brain to do this, the less ability you will have to concentrate on doing what you have to do. It doesn’t matter that you have a well-managed personal organization system if you fail at the execution stage.
- Your relationships with others get worse, because your way of acting in this hyper-connected society tends not to show proper consideration to the people who are present. By constantly attending to your phone when you are talking face-to-face with someone, you are showing them that any nonsense is more important than their conversation or their company.
It’s really difficult to stop paying attention to a new stimulus. When your phone rings indicating that someone has posted a comment on your Facebook wall, how can you resist? If you get a new email, it’s probably nothing urgent, something you can see and answer at any other time. But, immersed in this culture of distraction, you have to look at it now.
It is worrying that today’s teens receive and send between 3000 and 4000 messages a month. Can you pay full attention to any activity, and therefore enjoy it, if you receive an interruption every 7 minutes?
A smartphone contains an incredible technology that allows you to do many things that were previously unthinkable, at any time. And since it’s in your pocket all the time, it’s become a kind of lifestyle.
Use the advantages of technology, but avoid the disadvantages of interruption. Learn to disconnect completely from time to time, slow down your pace of life and reinforce your attention with exercises that require some concentration for a good amount of time.
Turn off all notifications generated by your smartphone, tablet, email, and social media. Instead of living constantly interrupted and distracted, set up two or three times a day to check your email, feeds, social media, etc. Are you worried you might miss something important? Forget it. If something is really urgent, someone will know how to contact you.
The culture of distraction makes your ability to think deeply and creatively constantly threatened. Conceiving ideas and putting them into practice requires time for reflection, and for that you need a personal organization method like GTD: if you are able to create a space where you can think and reflect, you will be able to move forward with more things, with less energy and less time.