It’s no secret that people now are all capable of playing with our phone, reading an interesting Reddit thread, watching TMZ video clips, or reading salacious tabloids article, instead of doing work or anything that boosts productivity. In this technologically advanced age, the colossal number of distractions in this environment makes it hard for people to stay focused for over 10 minutes. What’s more is that these distractions do not discriminate – they kill one’s performance whether he or she is a student, a full-time worker, a stay-at-home parent, or an astronaut.
If you take a look at the “Your Activity” section on Instagram right now, you can see the appalling amount of time you’ve sunk into the platform. The horror is real – you will never get that 1 hr and 30 mins back and it will only be the same or greater the next day – never less. The conclusion to be drawn here is that your productivity has been undermined and that it’s the phone’s fault.
It’s very easy to hop on the hate-bandwagon for phones and the Internet, to call it a downside of technology, and to blame our short attention span on the advancement of technology. There are many online articles that are feeding into this line of thinking. Nonetheless, if you blame anyone but yourself for your poor concentration, you will likely determine that the procrastination is somehow forgivable and involuntary.
You Were Born This Way: The Brain’s Device
Would it surprise you if I say that the distractions were not your fault? Well, get ready to be surprised, since it comes down to a fault in our brains’ design. According to Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen, in their book, The Distracted Mind, they cracked the code and shared their knowledge on the primal function of our brain and how it affects our attention span.
We have come to believe that the human brain is a master navigator of the river of information that rages steadily all around us. And yet we often feel challenged when trying to fulfill even fairly simple goals. This is the result of interference — both distraction from irrelevant information and interruptions by our attempts to simultaneously pursue multiple goals. Many of you may now be glancing accusingly at your mobile phone. But before we place any blame on this potential culprit, it is critical to understand that our sensitivity to interference was not born out of technology. Rather, it is a fundamental vulnerability of our brain.The Distracted Mind by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen
From an evolutionary standpoint, we are designed to notice all the events that are happening around us, in order to protect ourselves from any potential danger. We also need to be constantly on the lookout for food, water, and other resources that sustain our lives. With that in mind, a keen detection ability is crucial. This allows us to always absorb new information and recognize changes in the environment, all in the name of survival. This strong, involuntary pull has made us susceptible to various distractions in life.
Shocking huh? Now, we cannot fully attribute our short attention span to technology. The truth is out – prior studies on the human brain and its attention capabilities have been invalidated. This has carried over to other creatures besides humans, including goldfish.
Have you heard of the “3-second goldfish memory”? Well, it’s now regarding as a myth too. Many experiments have shown that they can remember things that happened weeks, months, and even years prior. Unfortunately, since many goldfish owners are not aware of this, they are perfectly content to keep their fish contained in substandard living conditions. As a result, breaking this goldfish myth is just as important as breaking the blame-our-attention-spans-on-technology paradigm, since they serve as both a reflection and examination of our own behaviors.
In addition, the revelation regarding our own brains helped us to approach distracted driving in a new light. Since we now know that we inherently, and involuntarily, notice all the changes in our environment, we are aware that that ability can be a double-edged sword whilst on the road. When we are driving, we pay full attention to what is ahead, around, or behind us. However, when a notification sound pops out, our attention for the road is immediately impaired, if only by a fraction. That then leads us down a rabbit hole where we think about our phones, who might be sending us messages, and so on. Although somewhat trivial, this is a prime illustration of how technology could be the accomplice, rather than the culprit, of our short and potentially dangerous attention span.
There are now many apps and widgets that help us cope with our weak ability to focus. For instance, Noisli 2.0 helps you to isolate all ambient noise and to keep you on track. Brain.fm also has a catalog of background music that keeps you focused. With that being said, there is still a long road ahead us to fight against distractions and our brains’ innate ability to notice them. What is crucial, however, is to maintain perseverance and self-control when our phones’ distractions may encourage us to “zone out”. Once we start doing so, we will begin to take our attention, as well as our time, back.