Digital Distractions: What They Are And How They Affect Our Lives

Digital distractions

It has happened to all of us on more than one occasion that, even when we have to do something important, we get distracted by all kinds of electronic devices. Even if we are working, studying or simply eating with our family, we need to check our cell phone, even if it is just once.

We consult it, we look at the latest notifications, who has sent us a “whats” and if our “crush” has posted something new on their Instagram profile. We raise our heads and notice that, like this, 10 minutes have passed and, to make matters worse, we don’t remember very well what we were doing. What happened?

Digital distractions are becoming a harmful habit in our daily lives, which are reducing our productivity, taking up a lot of our time and depriving us of socializing in person with people right next to us. Let’s take a closer look at this worrying issue.

Digital distractions and their implications in daily life

As the 21st century has progressed Information and communication technologies (ICT) have taken over all aspects of our lives a phenomenon that has grown even more since the 2020 pandemic began and activities that the majority of mortals did in person, such as working, studying or meeting friends, had to become totally virtual activities.

It is clear that new technologies and, especially, the Internet and social networks, make our lives easier in many aspects, the current situation being a clear example of this. If it were not for the online world, many people would not have been able to contact many of their acquaintances or have been able to continue with their employment or studies during confinement. The Internet is a large virtual information library, which used well has many benefits. However, in certain senses it is also a source of harm in our society.

It has happened to some of us that, with our cell phone in our hand, we are walking down the street and bump into another passerby, who was also distractedly gossiping about his cell phone. It may also have happened to us that, having met with our friends, having dinner with the family or at any other social event, we have not been able to avoid gossiping about the latest Instagram posts, completely ignoring our surroundings and if they have told us something we don’t even remember. . We think that we can do several things at the same time, that we can afford to use social networks and live real life, but it is not that simple.

Digital distractions are a worrying issue, since They do not simply involve disconnecting for a while from what we were doing Its power to deconcentrate what we were doing is so powerful that more than making us be in the clouds, it makes us reach stratospheric levels. We stop doing the important thing we had to do and we spend minutes, sometimes hours, gossiping about the most recent publications, posts, notifications and messages that appear and catch our attention on the mobile screen.

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Algorithms and addictions

In the past, distractions of any kind were due to a series of more or less controllable factors. Sometimes the distraction came only from our mind, in the form of thoughts that worried us and were difficult to control, something that is totally normal for any person. Other times it happened that someone distracted us, saying or doing something to us that made us take our attention away from what we were doing.

When the first cell phones appeared, or rather the “trunkmobiles”, they caused distractions, but they were not at all comparable to those of current technology and we could hardly call them “digital”. It could be that they made us a call or sent us a “sms” and that, naturally, would distract us a little while we were working or studying, but that’s where it stayed. The text messages didn’t work and the calls only distracted us for as long as they lasted.

But Mobile phones have become smart and, in addition, other similar devices have appeared that allow us to have access to the Internet anywhere Before, we could only access the Internet on a fixed computer and, given how primitive the virtual world was, beyond searching for information and playing a minigame there was little we could do. Now, whether with our mobile phone, tablet, desktop computer or laptop, we can access all types of content on all types of social networks, networks that know us very well.

Social networks work with algorithms that record what we have put in their search engine and what we have visited For example, if on YouTube we have searched for “kittens” and we have clicked on a video where these little animals appear, this platform will remember. Thus, the next time we open YouTube it is quite likely that cat videos will appear in the recommended section and if we are big fans of these animals we will surely not resist the temptation of watching a few videos.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr… all these networks work with similar algorithms and it is no secret. The reason for this is to make us spend as much time as possible within these networks and they capture us by presenting us with all types of personalized content, content that the networks know we will like. We click and click on them, watching one video after another or seeing a long series of posts from which we cannot take our attention away. When we are bombarded with information that we like, we cannot stop paying attention to it, it is as if it were drugs and we are addicted to the Internet.

Attention and distractions

As surprising as it may seem Digital distractions have neurological consequences We invest a lot of energy every day looking at all kinds of texts, alerts, images, videos and notifications and, to make matters worse, we tend to look at them at inappropriate times. The physical, mental and emotional costs of such distractions are directly related to our efficiency and productivity in day-to-day obligations, which will be performed in a worse way the more digital distractions there are.

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Although the adult human brain only accounts for 2% of the body mass, its more than 80 billion neurons burn around 20% of the calories we eat each day. The percentage grows to 50% in the case of adolescents, and is 60% in children and pre-adolescents. That is, the energy consumption of our brain is very high, an expense that increases depending on the activities we do, especially if these are cognitively demanding.

The most cognitively demanding activities are those that have to do with attention Changing our attention from one subject to another, focusing it and maintaining it for an indeterminate period of time involves a high consumption of energy, something we do every day, in a normal and everyday way. In fact, of these three activities, the one that uses the most energy is changing attention, since disconnecting from the previous issue and concentrating on the new one requires a high cognitive effort.

Digital devices make us repeat this cycle endless times. For example, let’s imagine that we are working on the computer and we have our cell phone on the table. We check our cell phone just to see what is being said in the chat of the group of friends, we read the last ten notifications and respond with a brief comment. This simple action has made us disconnect, having to put a little effort back into the task we were doing and focus our attention again.

This specific case of digital distraction wouldn’t be a big problem if we only committed it once while we were working; However, it is common for us to do this several times, probably more than 5. Constantly changing the focus of attention between the mobile phone and work means that energy resources are constantly being invested, causing mental fatigue since our energy is not unlimited. As we get mentally tired we perform worse, we make more mistakes and we get frustrated because we are not doing the task well.

Some will say that they can do two things at once since they are good at multitasking. They think they can efficiently do two things at the same time, being able to work and check social media simultaneously. Unfortunately for them, multitasking is still a myth. The human brain can only concentrate on one complex thing and constantly switching from one subject to another does not allow us to pay proper attention to both issues. It is not that we go from being 100% with one task to being 50% with each of the two, but rather we would be at 10%. We work much worse.

What to do about all this?

It is curious how the very social networks that encourage us to be distracted by them have enabled options to reduce the time we use them. Let’s not be confused, they are not doing it out of regret, but rather because of complaints from psychologists, consumer associations and various governments. Besides, In most cases its functions to regulate time are rather passive, simply letting us know that we have been using the application for X amount of time without preventing us from continuing to use it.

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Another option that exists is to download an application that does block access to social networks and other applications that take up our time. The problem is that those that apparently work cost money, given that if social networks encourage Internet addiction, the applications that stop them take economic advantage of such addictions.

The best thing you can do to avoid digital distractions is relatively simple, in fact we all know the answer: disconnect. Whatever the device that distracts us, if we really want to avoid digital distractions, the best thing we can do is turn off our cell phone when we are working or studying, or at least disconnect the Wi-Fi button and inform our contacts that they want to talk to us. to call us, and preferably only if it is an emergency.

In case the distraction comes from the computer and we have to use it to work, the matter is a little more complicated, but not impossible If our work involves writing, a good option is to use the word processor (e.g., Word) instead of using one connected to the cloud (e.g., Drive). If you cannot do without the online word processor, it is best that, while we use it, we do not have any more windows open.

We may be one of those who like to listen to music in the background while we work, which is fine since it motivates us to continue doing it. It is common for us to use YouTube to do this and put on an automatic playlist while we use the computer for other things. The problem with this is that we have to be very careful since there is a risk that, when we search for the song we want to listen to, we will get distracted by watching recommended videos.

Taking the above into account, the best way to listen to background music is to use traditional music devices, such as a radio cassette or mini-system. You can also use your own computer for this, but it is best to download the list of songs and be able to listen to them without having to go to YouTube. This way we will avoid falling into the temptation of gossiping about any new video or other digital content that we don’t have to consult now that we are busy working.

Finally, insist that multitasking is nothing more than a myth. If we have to work or study we have to focus solely on it We must enable adequate space to avoid being distracted by all kinds of new technologies. A great idea is to leave the cell phone in a hidden place, since the simple fact of having it nearby, even if we are not going to consult it, makes us start paying attention to it without wanting to, which takes us away from what we were doing. The ideal is to have on hand only what is related to the task to be done and, the more analog, the better.