Technology has made our modern and ultra convenient lives possible. We don’t have to worry about who might be calling. We rarely have to buy stamps or make trips to the Post Office. If we forget what we needed at the store we can call or text someone to remind us. We don’t have to fight over how to refold maps. But is there such a thing as too much convenience? Is it possible that, in some respects, technology might be working against us?
And we don’t just mean those technical glitches that take down our networks or knock out our wi-fi. Thanks to technology, we have virtual and physical backups to keep our work safe and, even if a glitch is so bad it makes your IT guy cry? There are expert level onsite data recovery services to step in and lend a hand. We don’t even get bonus days off when the internet goes down anymore. Thanks to wi-fi and the cloud? We simply have to find another location with a connection so we can get back to working.
We’re also not talking about the inevitable robot uprising (at least, not yet). We’re talking about how perhaps the incredible convenience we now enjoy can also be quite destructive to our productivity and ability to focus.
The experts think this is the case. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Shallows: How the Internet is Changing Our Brains, author Nicholas Carr wrote that there definitely seems to be a change in attention span and our ability to think deeply about things. In Carr’s case, he noticed a definite change–and not for the better–in his ability to concentrate. In an interview with Huffington Post, Carr said:
“What psychologists and brain scientists tell us about interruptions is that they have a fairly profound effect on the way we think. It becomes much harder to sustain attention, to think about one thing for a long period of time, and to think deeply when new stimuli are pouring at you all day long. I argue that the price we pay for being constantly inundated with information is a loss of our ability to be contemplative and to engage in the kind of deep thinking that requires you to concentrate on one thing.”
This is a trend that has only gotten worse since social media has become so ubiquitous in our world. The endless scroll of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. forces us to jump from person to person, subject to subject, very quickly. Articles and blog posts more than 500 words long are even called “Long Reads.”
It isn’t just attention spans that are problematic. Our memories are also getting worse. Technology has made it possible to carry around the entire world’s knowledge in our pockets. We can look up anything anywhere we are so we don’t feel the need to remember facts, figures, and details as much as we once did. Take a second to think about this: how many phone numbers do you know off the top of your head besides your own? If your phone died would you be able to call someone to help you out?
Fear of Missing Out also comes into play. Thanks to social media we literally see everything our friends and loved ones are doing at any time of the day and the idea of missing out on even one inside joke or meme stresses us out the same way that forgetting to study for a test or having to get up and give a speech used to. This means that we are constantly clicking away from the tasks on which we are supposed to be focusing to see what everybody else is doing.
And, of course, this constant connection puts pressure on us to share all of the things we think and do throughout the day. Pics or it didn’t happen is more than just a colloquialism. It has become our way of life.
The makers of our tech don’t exactly fight against this. On the contrary, they take our short attention spans and our thirst for connection and knowledge very seriously and work hard to create content. Notice how in this article, the paragraphs are mostly short and there is a lot of white space. This facilitates skimming. And this is just one example!
Now, it’s easy to read all of this and feel like we’re shouting doom and gloom about the advancements that have been made in technology. On the contrary! We love all of the advances that have made our lives easier and more fun. That said, being able to focus in the face of all of that distraction is incredibly important too.