In 2015 Microsoft Canada did a study on 2000 participants and found that the average attention span of an individual has dropped to mere eight seconds, from the 12 seconds in 2000. Thus, we are just one second away from reaching the average attention span of a goldfish. Here is an excerpt from the report:
“Canadians [who were tested] with more digital lifestyles (those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts, or earlier adopters of technology) struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed.”
The age of distraction is costing us dearly. An average worker wastes about hours of productive time to distractions. Interruptions in the form of emails, instant messages, social media, etc. is costing theÂ U.S. $588 billion every year.
What’s Going on?
One of the biggest reasons behind our shortening attention span is the hyperactive and instantly accessible content that we are exposed to. A large portion of our time is spent on screens, whether it is a laptop, TV, tablet, or a mobile. There are countless websites, new videos every day, emails, TV shows, video games, and what not. With smart phones in our hands we are just a tap away from accessing these contents.
Gloria Mark, a researcher from the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, led a report on the effect of social media on attention span. The experiment spanned over 10 years and was carried on a group of IT workers based in America.
Mark asked the participants to use two different computer screens for their work, rather than just one. In 2004, the subjects switched their attention from one screen to the other on average every three minutes. By 2012 the median time of retaining focus on one screen dropped to one minute, 15 seconds. And in 2014, that average was 59.5 seconds.
Mark concluded that the more time people spend switching between screens â€” between websites such as Facebook and Twitter or checking notifications from games or apps â€” the less productive they get at the end of the day.
According to The Attention Economy, just one Sunday Edition of the New York Times contains more written content than the readers of the 15th century readers could access in their life. Unfortunately, while we have ample content, more of which is created every day, we are facing a tremendous lack of attention, and can’t fully use the knowledge we have at our hands today.
That’s Not All
While the availability of insurmountable content is a major reason why we can’t focus easily today, there is another possible reason as well. Maybe it is because prioritizing is becoming increasingly difficult. We are unable to distinguish between what’s important, and what not.
Long before the modern civilization, life was tough, but it was exciting nonetheless. Our ancestors had to discover and learn about numerous things, such as the weather, food, shelter, and more.
The evolution process that spanned over millions of years kept them on their toes. They had to be vigilant at all times, for nature’s attacks (forest-fires, floods, etc.) and prowling animals were always a danger. Thus, what’s important was clear, and prioritizing was almost natural.
Today, life is quite simple and easy. There are no serious life threats, at least not immediate. What’s important for us today is also often boring and bland.
This is probably one of the reasons why a lot of people are not satisfied with their jobs. With a lot of job profiles covering writing software codes, handling customer queries, etc. it is no surprise people find ways to avoid them. Getting distracted is thus quite easy.
Another related theory is that perhaps we still seek activity and thrill, which is not provided to us by high priority tasks. After all, our ancestors were constantly engaged in adrenaline-rushing activities- surviving and hunting. This nature is still existent without our core DNA. So, to adjust with the digital world, we seek activity through Internet content. The average American spends almost as much time working, as they spend in watching TV in their entire life.Â This is astonishing but proves the point nonetheless.
The disruption by the age of distraction carries more gravity that it seems. According to economic researchers almost half of the existing jobs will be taken over computers, robots, and the AI technology. This is mainly due to our increasing intolerance for uninteresting work, and lack of focus. Only the limited few who have saved themselves from the effects of the distractive era will be working along with these machines.
There is no two ways about the fact that we ought to control our losing focus, and there are 3 easy things you can do to make that possible-
- Scheduling the Internet Time: One of the most effective ways to control your time spent on Internet is by scheduling it. It is best if you stop using Internet in the evening, say 6 p.m. This way when you come back home you can spend quality time with family and friends, and also focus on other important things such as your hobbies, workouts, etc.
- Disabling Unnecessary Notifications: Do you really need to get notifications for Facebook posts, or every new email that arrives in your inbox? You can turn these notifications off, and check your inbox and Facebook account once every few hours or so. You will be surprised to see how much productive you can become just by doing this.
- Bringing in The Paper: Paper media is powerful, even more in today’s digital era. If you like to read ebooks and e-newspapers, then switch to reading paperback books and newspapers. You will feel much more relaxed and focused.
Technology is meant to make us more powerful, but unfortunately it is giving a rise to tech and Internet junkies. Without controlling our Internet usage we can’t retain the control on our life, and the sooner we act, the better.