Distracting Ourselves with Digital Devices

blackberry-man-bathroom.pngI wrote a recent article on the Stepcase Lifehack website entitled “A New Productivity for the Smartphone Era”  that describes the ways in which users’ bad habits are ruining the gains that should have come from this new technology.

These habits range from “driving-while-texting” to “interrupting-conversations-to-check-for-random-email.”

What’s remarkable is how automatic these behaviors have become, and how scary the concept of ubiquitous smartphones in the workplace should be to company executives.

In part, I was inspired to write the article after reading the following two articles:  FastCompany’s “Are We Distracted or Are We Just Bored?” and The New York Times’ “Your Brain on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price.”

In the first article, the author believes that people have become ultra-responsive to  electronic interruptions because they are losing the ability to focus on work that requires quiet, thoughtful focus.  He believes that employee readiness to be “always on” is unhealthy.

I agree, but I would assert that people have enabled this to happen by picking up negative habits that were useful at one point, but have become destructive.   For example, answering the smartphone whenever it pings/beeps/rings/ vibrates might be a good habit when someone is receiving less than 5 emails per day.  However, when that number grows to 147 (as it has for the average knowledge worker) then it becomes a problem.

The New York Times article addresses the seeming reality that humans are poor at multi-tasking, but we are quite good at noticing the exciting stuff of which distractions are made.  It also raises the alarming possibility that our brain-chemistry might be changing in response to the instant distractions provided by electronic devices in our environment.

At the same time as these articles are being published, I don’t notice a rush of people looking for answers, and I can’t help but wander if there’s not some resignation in the air because we are in a recession, and these are the keys to keeping a job… for the moment.