A Giant Source of Distraction

In study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology..  a few hundred participants took a self-guided tour through the Stanford Memorial Church. On the tour, the participants were supposed to take note of details like “the cruciform shape of the church” and make sure they checked out the bronze angels that “greet you from the massive entry doors.”

Some of these participants had iPods equipped with cameras and were instructed to take photos (either to print out later or to post on Facebook). Other participants went in empty-handed.

A week after the tour, the participants were given a surprise quiz, with questions about details they should have learned on the tour. In one arm of the study, those without a camera got around 7 out of 10 questions right. Those who had a camera scored closer to 6. That’s like going from a C to a D, a small but significant difference.

“Just taking photos in general was enough to decrease scores on a memory test,” says Emma Templeton, a Dartmouth psychological researcher who was a co-author of the study.

Why? The simple answer is that the camera is a distraction. “It could just be that we’re using these devices, distracting ourselves from the experience, and because of that distraction, we don’t remember the thing we’re supposed to be paying attention to,” says Templeton.

And because of the ubiquity of smartphones, “we’ve just inserted into our daily lives potentially a giant source of distraction.

Brian Resnick writing in Vox

Managing Your “Mental Tabs”

Have you ever had too many Internet tabs open at once? It is a madhouse of distraction. When I feel like my brain has too many tabs open at once, it’s often the result of trying to mentally juggle too many thoughts at the same time.

Writing gives form to your ideas and gets them out of your head, freeing up bandwidth and preventing you from crashing your browser like a late night downward spiral on Wikipedia.

Gregory Ciotti writing in HelpScout

The Digital Deluge

Distractions clearly affect performance on the job. In a recent essay, Dan Nixon of the Bank of England pointed to a mass of compelling evidence that they could also be eating into productivity growth. Depending on the study you pick, smartphone-users touch their device somewhere between twice a minute to once every seven minutes. Conducting tasks while receiving e-mails and phone calls reduces a worker’s IQ by about ten points relative to working in uninterrupted quiet. That is equivalent to losing a night’s sleep, and twice as debilitating as using marijuana. By one estimate, it takes nearly half an hour to recover focus fully for the task at hand after an interruption. What’s more, Mr Nixon notes, constant interruptions accustom workers to distraction, teaching them, in effect, to lose focus and seek diversions.

The Economist

Our private online worlds

When we enter a coffee shop in which everyone is engrossed in their private online worlds, we respond by creating one of our own. When someone next to you answers the phone and starts talking loudly as if you didn’t exist, you realize that, in her private zone, you don’t. And slowly, the whole concept of a public space — where we meet and engage and learn from our fellow citizens — evaporates.

Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety.

Andrew Sullivan writing in New York Magazine

Digital Distractions

Our brains are designed to pick up on what’s new or changing around us. In the digital world, things are changing and being posted every few seconds. News sites and social media are also – and purposefully – designed in an easily digestible way that draws us in. It’s no wonder so many of us have butterfly brains.

A well functioning brain should wander every few minutes. It makes us more creative and stops our brain from burning out. So don’t resist it. However, the mistake many of us are now making is when we take a break from ‘work information’ we replace it with an endless stream of information from social media or the news or whatever else is online. Digital breaks don’t have an end point – you can spend hours flitting around and then you feel overloaded. Or you can stay up late, mindlessly browsing, even when you’re exhausted.

Think about it. If you click on a news story about a war that’s heartbreaking, then a political leader you feel frustrated by, then a social media photo that makes you feel inadequate, no wonder you feel spent and stressed.

Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute in New York and author of new book Two Awesome Hours, quoted in the Telegraph