We are all deep thinkers today, right? Unfortunately NOT.
Technology has afforded us the ability to…look, a squirrel!
Research conducted by Microsoft on 2,000 Canadians shows that thanks to technology — smartphones in particular — our attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish.
The average human attention span is now eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000; the goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. Yes, a gold fish has a longer attention span than a human by one second.
With similar results regardless of age group or gender, the study found that a variety of factors inhibit our attention, among them media consumption, social media usage, technology adoption rate, and multi-screening behavior.
Multitasking was a winner in this study for heavy technology users. The researchers suggest that being able to utilize multiple sources of information might be the upshot of a shorter attention span. “Canadians’ increasingly digital lifestyles are also making them more efficient at processing information and recording it to their memories. They’re able to do more with less, so that they can move on to the next new/exciting thing.”
But is that a good thing? Are there gains due to doing more with less? Or losses because of starting, stopping, then starting again?
Bryan College’s graphical report, “How Are Millennials Impacting Today’s Workplace?” describes multitasking as just switching tasks because no one can really do more than one task at the same time. Defining millennials as 18-to-34 year-olds, the report claims millennials switch their attention between media platforms 27 times per hour, costing $450 billion annually due to a loss of productivity. That ultimately impacts workplace turnover for millennials, which a Gallup report puts at $30.5 billion.
MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller notes that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… when people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”
Can we reverse this trend, or have we reached a cliff? Can we counteract some of the results of the 8-second attention span? Yes — first and foremost, focus: Undertake one task at a time. Don’t move on until you complete the first task, and take a break between activities so your mind can refocus.
Technology continues to change our lives, and having a smartphone in your hand is an invaluable asset in many ways. But being able to concentrate, to focus and to think requires walking away from constant distractions and actually doing the work.
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