Recently, a gentleman pulled up next to me in a vehicle at a stop light and I noticed that he had one cell phone in each hand, texting away on both of them at the same time. Make no mistake about it, he was driving and when the light turned green, he pulled away still holding both phones! I am sure you have witnessed something similar (or worse) in your experiences, either driving or perhaps walking down the street. People are more and more distracted as they navigate their ways through life. We often want to blame technology; however, just like anything else, we need to look into our own minds and see what is going on before we blame an artificial product that should not have control over us.
Smart Cell Phones
2007 was the year that changed everything. In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone, a revolutionary communication device using touch screen technology and had access to the Internet, hold all your music, and could make a phone call. When it first came out, iPhone only sold on the AT&T network and sold 1.39 units. In 2015, iPhone sales were 200 times what they were in 2007. And the competition from other manufacturers is clear, with all the major companies having an iPhone life device in the mix. Needless to say, everyone has a smartphone now. The consequences to our distraction is amazing. People carry their phones with them, usually in their pockets. Whenever a notification comes in, you either get a vibration in your pocket or a beep; this constant distraction activates our dopamine system in our brains and we are compelled to look at our phones. How often does this happen to you in a day? When this does happen, do you break contact with the person that you are with to answer the call or look at the notification? Perhaps you look down for a second while driving? Or worse, pick up the phone and start texting or responding to a notification? Being distracted is not only dangerous while driving, but it also sends an important message to other people that are in the room with you, “my phone is more important than you are.” Think about that the next time that you look at your phone in the presence of someone else.
Television and Movies
While television can be a useful device, it can take control of your life and, in a sense, be even worse than a smart phone. The images that one sees on television can affect us, both consciously and subconsciously. Have you ever felt tired after watching a long movie? Movies are so realistic and sometimes fast paced that they can leave you physically and mentally exhausted. I remember feeing adrenaline flowing through my body after I saw the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan for the first time in the theater. I’ll never forget that experience. Subject yourself to that too often and for too long, and your brain will start to flash back those images while you are going through your normal life. Again, you will be distracted or get triggered by graphic memories of the recent movie of television show that you watched. Remember that at the end of the day, we are tuned to see movement and focus in on it. That is why television is so mesmerizing and addictive. Our brains are drawn to keep watching, even though we may not even be that interested in what is going on. The more movement the better; and our thoughts get hijacked as a result.
Internet and Social Media
By having constant access to information at our finger tips, and having access to a network of thousands of our closest “friends” at all times, our brains are once again distracted by various software programs designed to keep us focused and staying online. Social media programs such as Facebook make money by having us stay on their sites. Getting and keeping our attention is their primary objective. And they succeed at the expense of the real people around you. Whether you are on a phone or compute is irrelevant. The fact that you spend time on one of these sites, even it is in 10 second increments all day long, is helping accomplish the mission of these social media companies. Remember that your brain does not multi-task. That is a physiological impossibility. You can only do one thing at a time. While seemingly doing multiple things at once (checking a website or social media platform while talking with someone) you are rapidly switching back and forth and consequently burning energy in the process. It’s no wonder that we are mentally exhausted at the end of the day. Being distracted has a mental toll in that we burn energy every time we switch from one thing to another, and having readily available distractions at our finger tips does not help.
Years ago, we used to have Lay Aways at stores, where you choose a product, leave it at the store, and pay towards it for weeks and sometimes months before taking it home. This was a form of delayed reward and taught us to wait and anticipate something in the future. In today’s super fast paced world, the Lay Away concept has given way to getting Amazon to deliver your product the next day (I hear Amazon is working on speeding this up with drones soon) and run up your credit card balance. The speed the we do business is sometimes mind blowing. I believe that this has had a direct effect on our personal lives. We speed through conversations, dinner, phone calls, text messages, or any kind of activity that we engage in with others at the same speed that we expect Amazon to deliver our packages. We have become habitually distracted because we expect things to happen faster and faster, and what’s worse is that this is creating artificial stress when speed does not happen as we expect or want it to. How often do you get to the end of the day and forget what you did at the beginning of the day? Are the days blending together as you forget some of the important details and conversations that you had with the people that matter to you most? That is the result of the distraction that occurred because you are going too fast.
The most significant impact is that all these distractions have a direct effect on our thoughts. When our thoughts are affected and swayed by technology, we are thrown into either the future or the past. Our thoughts are taken away from the present moment, whether that present moment is simply driving a car, talking or spending time with your significant other or child, or observing a sunrise or sunset. Remember that our brains desire to be fully engaged. Dopamine is what makes this possible. We enjoy an engaging conversation or even an engaging thought process. Unfortunately, this engagement mechanism can be manipulated. Hijacking and controlling our thoughts is what advertising companies and now social media companies are designed to do, often without us even knowing it. What you think about is very important and can directly affect your physical health. Don’t let technology distract you into a state of unhealthiness, or worse, unhappiness.
What is your screen time this week? My screen time on my cell phone last week was 1 hour and 32 minutes. Unfortunately, I spend a long time on my computer because of my job; however, making a conscious effort not to spend time on my computer in the presence of others is my goal this week. Make a similar goal for yourself. Refrain from using technology while driving or while in the presence of other people. Remember that what you watch on television or in the movies has a direct effect on your thoughts and can distract you from what is really important, the relationships that you have with other people. Spend less time engaged with technology and instead engage with others around you, even if those people are strangers, waiting in line somewhere or in a doctor’s office, for example. Technology can be a useful tool if used wisely, and you can learn a lot from watching certain programming. However, don’t let technology become such a distraction to you that you forget what is most important in your life.
“Lean into it!”