Are Mobile Devices Destroying Our Attention Spans?

I think there was a time period — and I emphasize think, because I never really grew up during this time period — when people would just sit down at meetings and talk to one another, and not just stare blindly at our mobile devices. Not while intermittently looking at their smart phone or tablet and being constantly distracted by Twitter feeds or texts. A time when, as Louis CK so crudely put it, people just lived their lives. A time when people didn’t have mobile devices to draw their attention away from one another and could instead focus on conversations and business and such. I imagine that Mad Men wasn’t too inaccurate in their depiction of, well, living life in the 1960s.

And yet, imagine the world that we live in right now. Even as I am writing this, I’m probably being distracted by websites, text messages and other obligations that are completely unrelated to what I am writing about — but wait, I am writing about distraction. Fitting.

Fighting for Our Attention

But I digress. Currently, the world that we live in is one that is heavily dominated by mobile devices. Smart phones, iPods, iPhones, tablets and other mobile devices are all vying for our attention. Then, of course, there are those other annoying things — namely, people — that also seek to gain our attention. I smell a problem…

And because of that, our mobile devices are becoming increasingly more and more problematic. Conducting a general meeting or teaching a classroom in which nobody  looks down at one of their mobile devices — regardless of whether they are a smart phone or a tablet computer — would seem blasphemous or sacrilegious. Not one person?

So, as mobile devices and social networks have begun to proliferate, so too has the issue of distraction and distractions. Many of us have grown personally attached and even tied to our mobile devices, and the information that they contain and often display is something that, in many situations, we have determined to be useful and important to us. Twitter, Facebook, sports scores, news updates, e-mail — all of these different sources of information that are meant to inform us also tend to distract us and pull us away from what is occurring in the now, as opposed to the information we need to keep up with in our daily lives.

At What Cost?

And that begs the question: Has keeping us constantly updated and attached to the digital world anywhere we go come at too high of a cost? Is our ability to simply live in the now being destroyed by our mobile devices?

Certainly, this is a question that many people have inquired about as mobile devices have become increasingly more and more common. Microsoft comically addresses this issue in many of their smart phone commercials, pledging to provide us a ‘phone to save us from our phones.’ The concern over whether or not the increased usage of mobile devices would further distract doctors is also an issue that the NYTimes explored.

And in a lot of instances, these issues impact more than just our ability to live in the moment. They can impact relationships, education and — as the NYTimes addressed — even medicine. And as evidenced by such issues as texting while driving, those distractions can sometimes be deadly. Being increasingly distracted by these mobile devices often takes away from our ability to maintain 100% focus on the things that are often far more important than text messages or e-mails.

But maybe the real problem is just us and our inabilities to detach ourselves from our smart phones for just a few hours at a time. Maybe we just haven’t learned to adjust to what has become a relatively new up cropping of distractions.

Have you found that people have become far too attached to their mobile devices?



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