Digital distractions


It has happened to all of us on more than one occasion that, even having to do something important, we get distracted with all kinds of electronic devices. Even if we are working, studying or simply eating with our family, we need to check our mobile, even if only 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 lift our heads and see that, silly, 10 minutes have passed and, to top it all, we don't remember very well what we were doing, what happened?

Digital distractions are becoming a harmful habit in our day-to-day lives, which are reducing our productivity, taking away a lot of time and depriving us of socializing in person with people who are right next to us. Let's take a closer look at this troubling 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 common bulk of mortals did in person, such as working, studying or meeting friends, they had to become totally virtual activities.

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

It has happened to some of us that, with our mobile in hand, we are walking down the street and we collide with another passerby, who was also gossiping his mobile distractedly. It may also have happened to us that having stayed with our friends, having dinner with the family or at any other social event, we have not been able to avoid gossiping the latest Instagram posts, completely ignoring our surroundings and if they have said something to us, 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 stopped doing the important things that we had to do and we spent minutes, sometimes hours, gossiping the most recent publications, posts, notifications and messages that appear on the mobile screen.

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 a thought that worried us and difficult to control, something that is totally normal for anyone. Other times it happened that someone distracted us, saying or doing something to us that made us detach our attention from what we were doing.

When the first mobiles appeared, or rather the "mobile trunks", they caused distractions, but not at all comparable to current technology and we could hardly call them "digital". It could be that they made us a call or sent us an "SMS" and that, of course, deconcentrated us a bit while we were working or studying, but there it stayed. The sms did not give more of itself and the calls only distracted us as long as they lasted.

But mobiles have become intelligent and, in addition, other similar devices have appeared that allow us to access the Internet anywhere . Before our entry to the Internet we could only do it on a fixed computer and, given how primitive the virtual world was, beyond looking for information and playing a minigame little could be done. Now, whether with the mobile, the tablet, the fixed computer or the laptop, we can access all kinds of content on all kinds 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 animals appear, this platform will remember. Thus, the next time we open YouTube, it is quite likely that we will see videos of cats in the recommended section and if we are very fans of these animals, we will surely not resist the temptation to watch 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 kinds 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 that we cannot take our attention from. When we are bombarded with information that we like, we cannot stop attending to it, it is as if it were drugs and we were addicted to the Internet.

Attention and distractions

As surprising as it may sound, 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 top it off, we usually look at them in moments that do not touch. The physical, mental and emotional costs of such distractions are directly related to our efficiency and productivity in our day-to-day obligations, which will be performed in a worse way the more digital distractions there are.

Despite the fact that the adult human brain only accounts for 2% of body mass, its more than 80 billion neurons burn about 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. In other words, the energy consumption of our brain is very high, an expense that increases depending on the activities we do, especially if they are cognitively demanding.

The most cognitively demanding activities are those that have to do with attention . Shifting our attention from one issue to another, focusing it and staying that way for an indeterminate period of time involves a high consumption of energy, something we do every day, in a normal and daily way. In fact, of these three activities, the one that expends the most energy is that of shifting attention, since disconnecting from the previous subject 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 with the computer and we have our mobile on the table. We check the mobile just to see what is being said in the chat of the group of friends, we read the last ten notifications and we reply 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 particular case of digital distraction wouldn't be a big problem if we only committed it once while we're working; However, the usual thing is that we do the same thing several times, surely more than 5. Being constantly changing the focus of attention between mobile 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 job well.

Some will say that they can do two things at once since they are good at multitasking. They think that they can efficiently do two things at the same time, being able to work and consult social networks simultaneously. Unfortunately for them, multitasking is still a myth. The human brain can only focus on one complex thing and constantly switching from one issue to another does not allow us to pay due attention to both issues. It is not that we go from being 100% with a 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 get distracted with them have enabled options to reduce the time we use them. Make no mistake, they do not do it out of regret, but rather because of complaints from psychologists, consumer associations and various governments. In addition, in most cases its functions to regulate time are rather passive, simply notifying us that we have been using the application for X time , without preventing us from continuing to use it.

Another option that exists is to download an application that does block entry to social networks and other applications that take up time. The problem is that those that seem to work cost money, since if social networks promote Internet addiction, the applications that stop them take financial advantage of such addictions.

The best thing to do to avoid digital distractions is relatively simple, in fact we all know the answer: disconnect. Regardless of the device that distracts us, if we really want to avoid digital distractions, the best we can do is turn off the mobile when we are working or studying, or at least disconnect the wi-fi button and inform our contacts that if 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 yes or yes to work on the matter, it is a bit more complicated, but not impossible for that . If our work involves writing, a good option is to use a word processor (eg, Word) instead of using a cloud connection (eg, Drive). In the event that the online word processor cannot be dispensed with, 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, something that is good since it motivates us to continue at it. It is common for us to use YouTube for this and put an automatic playlist while we use the computer for other things. The problem with this is that you have to be very careful since you run the risk that, when we look for the song we want to listen to, we 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 player 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 enter YouTube. This way we will avoid falling into the temptation to gossip about any new video or other digital content that we do not have to consult now that we are busy working.

Lastly, insist that multitasking is nothing more than a myth. If we have to work or study, we must focus only on it . We must provide adequate space to avoid being distracted by all kinds of new technologies. A very good idea is to leave the mobile in a hidden place, since the simple fact of having it nearby, even if it is not going to be consulted, makes us start paying attention to it without wanting to, which detracts us from what we were doing. Ideally, only have at hand what is related to the task to be done and, the more analog, the better.

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