Is the world getting us more distracted? More often than not, it feels that way. Our digital devices are buzzing at all times, world news demands our attention 24/7, and there are countless entertainment opportunities than ever before. With that, it certainly seems harder to focus on what’s really important. While distracted driving can kill, understanding how to stay focused is exactly what it takes to get things done and get ahead.
The state of being distracted might appear more available than ever, but it is nothing new. Over 2,000 years ago, Socrates and Aristotle debated the nature of “akrasia” (pronounced uh-crazy-uh) our tendency to act against our better judgment. To the ancient Greeks, mere mortals were prone to distraction due to our weakness of will. Easy for them to say — Socrates and Aristotle never had to resist binge-watching “Game of Thrones.”
Can Distraction Be a Good Thing?
Is distraction a curse or a blessing? Not giving full attention to what we should be doing makes us miss deadlines, fail classes, and crash into other drivers. Being easily distracted has a price. Nonetheless, we love our distractions! Social media, spectator sports, movies, books, TV shows, the news, video games – what would we do without them?
Clearly, there are benefits to distractions as evidenced by the fact that nearly everyone on earth seeks them out. But why? Although they seem to pull us away from more important things, what purpose do they serve? And, when at times we seem to give in to distractions, how do we ensure they serve us well?
When are Distractions Destructive?
Distractions can help us deal with pain. But what about the many products and services, like video games and social media sites, designed to be so good we want to use them all the time? Sometimes we have trouble limiting their use and find ourselves sucked into distractions.
Your ability to identify why and how you engage with personal technology can make the difference between healthy and destructive behavior. Take a look at your favorite digital activities. Look at how you use social media, video games, puzzles, television shows, podcasts, news, and spectator sports. Are you using them as tools to build strength, skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy for the future? Are you using them to be temporarily distracted to escape from an uncomfortable reality? If it’s the latter, you may want to reconsider the role these distractions play in your life. If the pain you’re escaping is permanent, no distraction will ever heal it. You must either learn new coping strategies or fundamentally fix what is broken.
How Can We Manage Digital Distraction?
Personal technology is getting more engaging than ever. There’s no doubt companies are engineering their products and services to be more compelling and attractive. But would we want it any other way? The intended result of making something better is that people use it more. That’s not necessarily a problem, that’s progress.
These improvements don’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to control our use of technology. In order to make sure it doesn’t control us, we should come to terms with the fact that it’s more than the technology itself that’s responsible for our habits. Our workplace culture, social norms and individual behaviors all play a part. To put technology in its place, we must be conscious not only of how technology is changing but also of how it is changing us.
Still distracted? Check out our articles on digital distractions to better understand the underlying psychology and how to effectively manage digital distraction by putting it in its place.