When I’m meeting people in a coffee house, public transport, in the line in the supermarket…I always see people checking the screens of their mobile phones. Or When I catch up with my friends I hear them complaining that their kids want to play games at their iPads, or watch TV… Ohh and one more place: when my husband and I go to the restaurant I often see couples communicating with their phones rather than with each other!
Now my question is: “Is looking at small phone screens actually good for us?”
“Humans now have a lower attention span than goldfish,
according to new research. A study by technology giant Microsoft has found that we stay focused for a mere eight seconds — goldfish can manage nine — before we are distracted by phone calls, social media alerts or the news feed on our computers. Multitasking might give us an instant hit of gratification and make us seem more efficient, but it is having a detrimental effect on our productivity at work and on our private lives. So what are our devices doing to our brains — and how can we improve our concentration?
Today’s technology makes no allowance for how easily distracted we are,
particularly by matters of a social nature, he says. “We’re not respecting the processing limits of the brain,” says Rock, who believes we are suffering from “an epidemic of overwhelm”. “It’s a bit like the car. We can drive at 150mph but should we? We can process ridiculous amounts of information in a day but should we?” says Rock. There are no rules governing the use of technology so it is up to us to self-regulate.
Researchers found that the top four factors affecting our attention are: media consumption, social media usage, technology adoption rate and multiscreen behaviour, such as watching TV while texting.
There are several problems with multi-tasking,
Miller says. “You miss a lot of things. You think you are paying attention to the different tasks you’re doing, but you could be missing something in one task while you’re focused on another. You’re taking in very limited information in little snapshots, and what your brain does is paper over all this. It integrates all these old snapshots into a unified whole, and because your brain can only take in little snapshots of the outside world, a lot of what the brain is doing is making predictions.”
One recent study estimated that it takes the brain 15 to 25 minutes to get to where it was before switching over to check an email or take a telephone call.
“The brain finds new information rewarding, and this worked well in a low-information environment
— but it doesn’t work so well today when there is too much information. If information is there, the brain is going to naturally orient to it so you have to be disciplined and get rid of those extraneous information sources,” says Miller.
Young people are particularly vulnerable, says Paul Atchley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Kansas. He says that on average teens text their peers twice as much as talking to them face to face, and are much more dependent on technology than adults.
If digital lifestyles have a negative effect on prolonged focus, the best thing to do is switch them off, say the experts.
“A lot of people are realising that the only way to be productive is to shut out the world for a few hours every day. You literally have to turn off your phone and work with just one screen in order to do any deep thinking. In open plan offices, you will already see people working with headphones on. If you do that for even 15 minutes a day, at the end of the month you’ll have dramatically better work done,” says Rock.
How to get your focus back
- Use the morning to do creative work that requires deeper thinking when your brain is still fresh and energetic. The rule should be hard work or creative projects first, urgent and important things second and emails and everything else third.
- Take a break of three to five minutes every hour.
- Do not underestimate the healing power of nature. Finding a bit of green space can be calming and quietening. A study by scientists at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh in 2013 discovered that a walk in a green space can calm the brain and improve attention.
- Do something unexpected such as changing where you sit or changing the structure of your desktop so that your brain is stimulated and produces dopamine, which will help you focus attention
Have you actually experienced technological overwhelm or do you know someone who had? Let me know! Please comment below And do share this with a friend. They might find that is OK to leave their device behind when doing out! 🙂