It has happened to us on several occasions that, despite the fact that we have to do something important, we are distracted by all kinds of electronic devices. Even if we are working, studying or just eating with our family, we need to check our cell phones, even if only once.
We’ve checked him out, check out the latest notifications, who sent us a “what” and if our “crush” posted anything new on their Instagram profile. We lift our heads and notice that this way, thing, 10 minutes has passed and on top of that we don’t really remember what we were doing, what happened?
Digital distractions are becoming a bad habit in our everyday life, Which reduce our productivity, rob us of a lot of time, and deprive us of socializing in person with the people we have right next to us. Let’s take a closer look at this concerning issue.
Digital distractions and their implications for everyday life
As the 21st century progresses information and communication technologies (ICT) have invaded all aspects of our livesA phenomenon that has gone even further since the onset of the 2020 pandemic and the activities the majority of mortals did in person, such as working, studying, or hanging out with friends, must have become entirely virtual activities.
It is clear that new technologies, and in particular the Internet and social networks, make our lives easier in many ways, the current situation being a clear example. Without the online world, many people would not have been able to come into contact with many they know or would have been able to continue their professional activity or their studies while in detention. Internet is a large library of virtual informationThat well used has many advantages. However, in some ways it is also a source of harm to our society.
It happened to some of us that, with our cell phones in our hands, we were walking down the street and we ran into another passerby, who was also browsing the distracted cell phone. It may also have happened to us that having stayed with our friends, having dinner with family or any other social event, we couldn’t help but browse the latest Instagram posts, completely ignoring our surroundings and if they told us. that we do not remember you. We think we can do multiple things at once, that we can afford to use social media and live real life, but it’s not that simple.
Digital distractions are a serious concern because they don’t involve just logging out for a while from what we were doing. Its power to distract us from what we were doing is so powerful that it causes us to reach stratospheric levels rather than being in the clouds. We stopped doing the important thing we needed to do and spent minutes, sometimes hours, digging through the latest messages, posts, notifications, and messages that appear to get our attention on our mobile screen.
Algorithms and addictions
In the past, distractions of all kinds were due to a number of more or less controllable factors. Sometimes the distraction came only from our mind, in the form of thoughts that worried us and were difficult to control, which is quite normal in anyone. Other times, it happened that someone distracted us, told us or did something to us that made us distract from what we were doing.
When the first cell phones appeared, or rather the “safe cell phones”, they caused distractions, but nothing comparable to those of current technology and could hardly be called “digital”. They might have called us or sent us a ‘text’ and that, of course, distracted us a little while we were working or studying, but here it stuck. The text messages did not give any more and the calls distracted us only as long as they lasted.
But cell phones have become smart and other similar devices have appeared that allow us to access the internet anywhere. Before we entered the internet, we could only do this on a stationary computer, and given the primacy of the virtual world, beyond finding information and playing mini-games, little could be done. . Now, whether it’s with a cell phone, tablet, landline or laptop, we can access all kinds of content on all kinds of social networks, networks that we know very well.
Social networks work with algorithms that record what we put in your search engine and what we have visited. For example, if on Youtube we search for “kittens” and click on a video where these animals appear, this platform will be remembered. So the next time we open Youtube it is very likely that we will see videos of cats in the recommended section and if we are big fans of these animals we certainly don’t resist the temptation to watch a few videos.
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr … all of these networks work with similar algorithms and it’s no secret. The reason is to make us spend as much time as possible within these networks and to capture ourselves by presenting all kinds of personalized content, content that the networks know we will love. We click and click on it, watch one video after another, or watch a long series of posts that we can’t take our attention away from. When we are bombarded with information that we like we can’t stop paying attention, it’s like it’s a drug and we’re addicted to the internet.
Attention and distractions
As unbelievable as it sounds digital distractions involve neurological consequences. We’ve put a lot of energy into the day looking at all kinds of texts, alerts, images, videos, and notifications and on top of that we usually watch them in moments that don’t touch each other. The physical, mental and emotional costs of such distractions are directly related to our efficiency and productivity in our daily obligations, which will come about in the worst way with the most digital distractions.
Although the adult human brain makes up only 2% of body mass, its more than 80 trillion neurons burn about 20% of the calories we eat each day. The percentage rises to 50% for adolescents and 60% for children and pre-adolescents. In other words, our brain’s energy consumption is very high, an expense that increases with the activities we do, especially if they are cognitively demanding.
The most cognitively demanding activities are those that involve attention. Changing our focus from one subject to another, concentrating and staying that way for an indefinite period of time means high energy consumption, which we do every day, in a normal, everyday way. In fact, of the three activities, the one that expends the most energy is changing focus, because disconnecting from the previous problem and focusing on the new one requires high cognitive effort.
Digital devices make us repeat this cycle countless times. For example, imagine that we are working with the computer and have the cell phone on the table. We checked our cell phone just to see what was being said in the friend chat group, read the last ten notifications, and responded with a brief comment. This simple action made us disconnect, have to redouble our efforts in the task we were doing and focus our attention again.
This particular case of digital distraction wouldn’t be a big deal if we only did it once while we were working; but, the usual thing is that we do the same thing several times, probably more than 5. Constantly changing the focus of attention between mobile and work means that energy resources are constantly being invested., Causing mental fatigue as our energy is not unlimited. As we get mentally tired, we perform worse, make more mistakes, and get frustrated because we don’t do the job well.
Some will say that they can do two things at once because they are well versed in multitasking. They believe they can do two things effectively at the same time, being able to work and view social media simultaneously. Unfortunately for them, multitasking is still a myth. The human brain can only focus on one complex thing, and constantly changing from one subject to another does not allow us to pay full attention to it. to two subjects. It’s not that we go from being 100% with a task to 50% with each of the two, but rather we would be at 10%. We work much worse.
What to do in the face of all this?
This is curious because the social networks themselves which encourage us to entertain ourselves with them have allowed options to reduce the time we use them. Let’s not be confused, they don’t do this out of remorse, but rather out of complaints from psychologists, consumer associations and various governments. Outraged, in most cases its time-regulating functions are rather passive, simply informing us that we have been using the app for X times, without preventing us from continuing to use it.
Another option that exists is the download app that blocks access to social networks and other apps that take up our time. The problem is, those who seem to be working cost money, because while social media encourages internet addiction, the apps that prevent them profit economically from those addictions.
The best thing you can do to avoid digital distractions is relatively simple, in fact we all know the answer: log out. Whatever device is distracting us, if we really want to avoid digital distractions the best thing we can do is turn off the phone when we are working or studying, or at least unplug the wireless button and let our contacts know. that if they want to talk, tell us. , and preferably only if it is an emergency.
In the event that the distraction comes from the computer and we have to use it if or if to work, the question is a little more complicated, but not impossible. If our job is to write, a good option is to use word processing (e.g. Word) instead of using cloud connected processing (e.g. Drive). In case the online word processor cannot be removed, it is better that when using it we no longer have any windows open.
Maybe we’re one of those people who like to listen to background music while we work, which is good because it motivates us to keep going. It is common for this to use Youtube and set up an automatic playlist while we are using the computer for other things. The problem with this is that you have to be very careful because you run the risk that when we search for the song that we want to hear, we get distracted by watching the recommended videos.
In view of the above, the best way to listen to background music is through traditional musical devices, such as a cassette radio or mini-system. You can also use the same computer for this, but it is better to download the list of songs and listen to them without having to enter Youtube. That way, we’ll avoid the temptation to chatter about any new video or other digital content that we don’t have to check out now that we’re busy working.
Finally, insist that multitasking is nothing more than a myth. If we are to work or study, we must focus only on that. We need to create the right space to avoid being distracted by all kinds of new technology. A good idea is to leave your cell phone in a hidden place, because just having it nearby, even if you are not going to consult it, causes us to start paying attention to it unintentionally, which distracts us from it. that we were doing. . The ideal is to have on hand only what is related to the task at hand and the more analogs, the better.
- Eagleman, D. (2020) Livewired: The Ever-Changing Inner Story of the Brain. Pantheon Books, New York, United States.
- Robb, MB (2019). The New Normal: Parents, Teens, Screens, and Sleep in the United States. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.