Thursday, May 21, 2009

Distractions

Just read “In Defense of Distraction” from the New York Magazine, which although 8 pages in length,is a very good article on how distractions are a real problem and how human beings are programmed to respond to distractions. Clearly, we will always have to cope with distractions but learning how to control them is the biggest secret we need to learn as we encounter more and more every day.

 

Here are some pertinent quotes from the article:

 

“Q. Are we living through a crisis of attention?

“Yes,” he says. “And I think it’s going to get a lot worse than people expect.” He sees our distraction as a full-blown epidemic—a cognitive plague that has the potential to wipe out an entire generation of focused and productive thought. He compares it, in fact, to smoking. “People aren’t aware what’s happening to their mental processes,” he says, “in the same way that people years ago couldn’t look into their lungs and see the residual deposits.”

 

“Over the last twenty years, Meyer and a host of other researchers have proved again and again that multitasking, at least as our culture has come to know and love and institutionalize it, is a myth.”

 

“The only time multitasking does work efficiently, Meyer says, is when multiple simple tasks operate on entirely separate channels—for example, folding laundry (a visual-manual task) while listening to a stock report (a verbal task). But real-world scenarios that fit those specifications are very rare.”

 

“Since every interruption costs around 25 minutes of productivity, we spend nearly a third of our day recovering from them. We keep an average of eight windows open on our computer screens at one time and skip between them every twenty seconds.”

 

It is interesting how distraction is compared with smoking, in that, we as yet don’t full comprehend the impact it maybe having not only in our jobs but also in other areas of our lives. The worry is that everyday we face more and more distractions that are being targeted more effectively to the way our brain’s process information. So not only are we facing a greater number of distraction but we are also facing distractions that are more effectively targeted to distract us. What chance do we have?

 

We can clearly take numerous steps to tame our technology and prevent it from distracting us but in the end only you can make that change. Only you can configure the technology the way you wish to operate. Only you can take steps to discipline yourself to avoid distraction. As the article says:

 

“if you allow that to be squandered by other people who are as bored as you are, it’s gonna say a lot about who you are as a person.”

 

Our brain’s are programmed to enjoy all the benefits of distraction but, left to it’s own devices (like overeating) there can be serious consequences that may not at first be all that obvious. Read the article and have a think about whether you are letting distractions, especially from technology, control your life. If you are honest you may find they are more in control that you thought.