Technology and Distraction

Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google, discusses at TED the interplay between technology, attention, and distraction.

For additional discussion of this TED talk, see Alexandra Dempsey’s post on the Freedom blog.

For additional discussion the significance of focus, the importance of guarding it, and a helpful tool to that end, see Focus—there’s an app for that. For more information or to try Freedom, see the Freedom website. For additional similar discussion and tools, see also

Better attention than a goldfish

Goldfish imageA recent study commissioned by Microsoft Canada found, disturbingly, that the human participants’ average attention spans had fallen to 8 seconds, a shorter time frame than measured for goldfish (Evernote, New York Times). One of the major suspected drivers of these results is the propensity of the participants to use a mobile device while “paying attention” to something else.

Even comparatively minor distractions apparently have a compound effect on concentration and productivity (Computers in Human Behavior, Evernote). What is required to avoid this effect will be different in different contexts (Knowledge@Wharton). But, being as “present” as possible in or to whatever situation we’re engaged in should be helpful in at least raising for ourselves the question of whether the amount of time and life invested into something—e.g., a ding, chirp, buzz, beep, or blink—is actually worth the return that might be expected from that thing.