• Sean Keenan

How Smartphones Hijack Your Concentration

I’ve always thought responding as quick as possible to things such as texts, E-mails, twitter reply’s and such was a great trait. It shows that I’m responsible and dependable. In reality though, all it really seems to be showing is how much smartphones have hijacked my ability to concentrate.

Shockingly distracting

It’s not outlandish to say that texts and the like are distracting, as I’m pretty sure anybody would consider them a distraction of some sort. What’s surprising though is just how much of a distraction a simple text actually is. In a study from Florida State University, it was shown that individuals who received text notifications during a task were 3 times as likely to make a mistake on said task. With the sheer magnitude of texts people receive throughout the day, this makes concentration with smartphones around near impossible. It doesn’t help that most people are also able to get texts through their laptop, hurting their concentration even more.

So why not just put it down?

When seeing just how much your concentration is ruined by texts to your phone and laptop, the simple solution should just be to put them down, correct? Well, in terms of a laptop that can be difficult since many do their work on a laptop, but is workable due to things like work-only laptops and disconnecting your messages app. The phone, however, is a different beast entirely.

Despite how simple it sounds to just put down the phone, it’s nearly impossible. Much of this due to just how addicting these smartphones are. In his article Our minds can be hijacked: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia” Paul Lewis discusses with many Silicon Valley refuseniks what makes the smartphone so addictive. One of the most interesting comment comes from former Google employee Tristan Harris, who discussed some of the strategy’s companies use to keep their users hooked.

He explored how LinkedIn exploits a need for social reciprocity to widen its network; how YouTube and Netflix autoplay videos and next episodes, depriving users of a choice about whether or not they want to keep watching; how Snapchat created its addictive Snapstreaks feature, encouraging near-constant communication between its mostly teenage users.

The goal of these companies is to get you to use their product, so it makes sense that they want them to be as addictive as possible, so it can be difficult to directly blame them, as Harris says in the article. The issue though is as they continue to enhance their products and our concentration continues to fade, when does it become too much? When does it cross the line from simply good design to becoming immoral?

The cyborg revolution, just not the way you think

When you think of a dystopian, apocalyptic future run by robots, you probably imagine something like Terminator. Big, giant robots and tanks that destroy everything in sight with their sheer mechanical might. Some fear that we may be getting close to this cyborg run future right now, though in a much more subtle way than you may think. In his article “How silicon valley is erasing your individuality” Franklin Foer describes how companies, specifically ones such as Facebook and Apple, are trying to mold humanity in their own personal image. This may sound a little ridiculous, but when you start to think about it, it’s not as silly as it seems.

How many essential features of your life does your smartphone control? Well, for me at least, I feel like nearly everything I do involves my smartphone in some way. It has my alarm to wake me up, my calendar to remind me when to go to class, I keep many food recipes in my notes app, I use it to check the time, to take photos, check the weather, keep track of my sleep patterns, and controls a large chunk of my shopping and communication. Without my smartphone, my life would most likely free fall out of control.

How can we prevent this?

As technology continues to grow, even more features of our life will continue to be controlled by these companies and they don’t seem to be planning to stop any time soon. As Foer describes in the aforementioned article, the individuals who run these tech giants don’t care about privacy. Mark Zuckerberg describes having two identities as “a lack of integrity”. If these companies could attach a device to you to control your every move, they probably would.

With how important smartphones have become in the modern world, it seems impossible to prevent something like this. As said earlier, simply putting down your phone is not as simple as it seems. In reality though, that seems to be the only way to unhook yourself from the “cyborg revolution” these companies so desire and regain the concentration that we all are slowly losing.

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© 2020 by Sean Keenan.