Smartphones: Harbingers of Doom

Photo by Marjan Grabowski on Unsplash

You’re working on something on your computer, writing an email or composing a blog post, and you glance towards your phone.  You keep working away, but you start glancing more frequently at your phone until pretty soon it’s in your hand and your other work is paused.  Is it FoMo (Fear of Missing Out)?  Is it a bad habit you need to kick?

How does your smartphone/tablet influence your productivity?

That’s one of the questions asked in the article “Are digital distractions harming labour productivity?”  Your gut probably says yes, but the author of the article states:

The evidence is mixed; it seems clear, however, that they are making us unhappier

Mixed?  I guess the question comes down to whether or not digital distractions more distracting than the old-fashioned distractions like your desk phone or people wandering by to see you.  With a lot more technology at our fingertips, we are more likely to send someone an email or text than to actually drop by.  So while the number of interactions may be the same, are they more disruptive when done digitally?

OK, how many of you looked at your cell phone since you started reading this?  Not necessarily touched it, but merely looked at it.

Yeah, I thought so.  The cellphone, for better or for worse, is part of our daily existence.  Instead of dropping by to talk to someone we exchange texts and emails.  Because of the cost of the effort, both in terms of time and dollars, is minimal we do that instead of actually visiting with someone.  And we do it a lot.  It’s cheap.  It’s fast.  And as a result, we text and email instead of talking.  While the number of words we may exchange is fewer, the impact, at least in my mind, is larger.

While cause and correlation are not the same things, just take a look at this graph from Is the economy suffering from the crisis of attention?“:

It is hard not to see that as smartphone shipments have grown, our productivity growth has decreased or actually gone in reverse.  Yes, this chart would make it appear that our productivity has actually decreased with smartphone usage.

But are we happier with our smartphones?  Harvard researchers seem to think that we’re not.

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.

How did they come up with this statistic?  They created an app (ironic isn’t it) that contacted people at random intervals asking them about whether or not they were happy and what they were doing and thinking about at the time.

We are distracted, of that there is no doubt.  I know for a fact that some quiet time to concentrate on something improves my productivity and my happiness.  The more I can accomplish/produce the happier I am.  When I really want to think about something I ignore my phone and I ignore my computer. I pull out a large pad of paper (11×17 pad), pull out my favourite pen or mechanical pencil and write or draw what needs to be done.  I personally feel that I am more productive in an hour than I am on a typical day.

Smartphones are a tremendous piece of technology but like everything, moderation is key to success.  So when you go to the movies tonight to watch Star Wars VIII, turn off your smartphone.

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