There is an entire generation that is receiving information in a way that is foreign to the generations that preceded it. It has created an ongoing struggle between young users and generations that long for “the way it used to be.”
Some of that struggle is real, in that behaviors and attitudes toward technology have not only changed but become integral. And while more young people are connected via smartphones, in some ways it has disconnected them from community.
The Guardian this week published a commentary examining the fragmentation of our lives at the hands of new technology.
“This constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal, to which we have adapted with ease, but there is a downside: more and more experts are telling us that these interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate,” wrote Harriet Griffey, author of “The Art of Concentration.”
According to Griffey, in 2005, research carried out by London’s Institute of Psychiatry showed persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect.
“Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep,” she noted.
According to Griffey’s commentary, the impact of interruptions on individual productivity can also be catastrophic. In 2002, it was reported that, on average, we experience an interruption every 8 minutes or about seven or eight per hour. In an 8-hour day, that is about 60 interruptions. The average interruption takes about 5 minutes, so that is about five hours out of eight. And if it takes around 15 minutes to resume the interrupted activity at a good level of concentration, this means that we are never concentrating very well, she wrote. Depression, along with anxiety, is a known factor in knocking out concentration.
So how reliant have we all become on our devices?
In August 2018, one study reported that people check their smartphones on average every 12 minutes during their waking hours, with 71% saying they never turn their phone off and 40% saying they check them within 5 minutes of waking.
In turn, Facebook and Instagram announced they were developing new tools designed to limit usage in response to claims that excessive social media use can have a negative affect on mental health.
What Griffey’s commentary suggests, however, is that with our heavy use of digital media, we are reprogramming our physiology. In other words, we are evolving as a result of our phones.
“Adrenaline and cortisol are designed to support us through bursts of intense activity, but in the long term, cortisol can knock out the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which help us feel calm and happy, affecting our sleep and heart rate and making us feel jittery,” she writes. “The fact that we are the cause of this is, paradoxically, good news since it hands back to us the potential to change our behaviour.”
So what are we to do?
The seems obvious: Put down the phones, and do something else.
Studies show it takes about 3 weeks to break a habit (or, more aptly, form a new one).
Experts concerned about our dependence to our phones advise: Switch off alerts, or take social media apps off your phone.
And use the time to go outside, play a game, write a letter, read a book — things that do not require your phone.
“Switching off from both external and internal distractions does not come easily. Learning how to be more mindful, practicing mindfulness or meditation, can all help facilitate greater concentration, not least because feeling calmer restores equilibrium and focus,” Griffey writes.
We already know there is more to life than our phones. Now we just need to prove it to ourselves and engage with the rest of the world — not the world “on hand.”