When Smartphones aren't Smart

Ok, Guilty mothers (and fathers). Who else is guilty of double screening? Sitting in front of the television whilst swiping through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Last night, my husband is trying to watch a film (it was a boring one to be fair) but when I tell him that the film isn’t very good, he shoots back to say “how would you know? you are even not watching it. You’re hooked on your phone”. Yep. He was right. I had been rumbled.

So that begs the question; what drives us to shift our concentration from one thing to another in such a short space on time? Is it boredom that drives us to constantly feel the need to check our smartphones? Could it be habit or are we just all bloody nosey?

Please tell me I am not alone when I say that I can barely last an hour without being tempted to pick up my smartphone to check social media, when I have no idea what I am looking for. In 2014, the advertising agency OMD reported that the average person shifts their attention between their smartphone, tablet and laptop 21 times an hour. Sometimes if I am reading an article online which is of interest, I might suddenly divert to Instagram and start looking on there, before remembering that I hadn’t finished the article I was half way through reading. Perhaps it is because social feeds are never ending. As soon as I like one thing, there’s always another image or hashtag to click on or suggesting other links ‘I might like’. Suggestive selling. And bang – ten minutes of my precious time is gone.

When my smartphone ran out of battery at 5pm yesterday evening and I didn’t get home on until after 7pm; initially, I was annoyed that it had run out of juice. Clearly I had been heavily abusing my smartphone all day, or as my husband would say 'giving it large on the iPhone'. I was desperately trying to figure out where to charge it. But, after a while, I felt abit relieved. I realised that I was uncontactable and for a few hours and strangely – it felt good. The children were with me, so I didn’t have to worry about missing any calls from the school as they were safe – with me.

So are smartphones really that smart if they are affecting our concentration so much? According to research by Microsoft, the average attention span was just eight seconds — one second shorter than a goldfish’s. In the report, Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, issued a disquieting prediction: that the ‘true scarce commodity’ of the future will be ‘human attention’. Further research by London-based psychologist Glenn Wilson found that those workers who are distracted by phone calls and emails see a 10 per cent drop in their IQs.

With the rise of social media and information being so widely available online, our children will grow up in a technology driven world, that we did not. Of course, immediate access to information for homework and studies is a fantastic resource tool; but how much time online is...too much? A 2014 education study found that the more time students spent online, the less they were able to concentrate in class and, accordingly, the shorter their attention spans.

Social media in particular is designed to be distracting; dependency is encoded in their algorithms. ‘Once people come in, then the network effect kicks in and there’s an overload of content,’ former Instagram engineer Greg Hochmuth explained to The New York Times in late 2015. ‘People click around. There’s always another hashtag to click on.’

And then the worst possible thing happened yesterday afternoon after a client meeting. I was frantically looking in my rucksack for my smartphone. Oh no....it’s been stolen. I can’t believe it. Until I realised it was attached to my ear and I was talking on it.

Not smart...

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