We live in dangerous times - not because of terrorists, killer cops, Donald Trump, Syrian refugees or ebola (remember that?) - but because this generation, the kids that grow up with iPhones, social media, tablets and laptops have a shorter attention span than ever. They start losing creativity, productivity and valuable life lessons since they were kids while they were supposed to stay sharp and save the world from threats like climate change, terrorism, Brexits and aliens.
Okay let’s think, when was the last time that you have been offline for over 24 hours? Chances are that this has been over 5 years ago. When was the last time you switched off your phone? (Not counting the times your battery was finished from playing Pokemon Go) More than half of the people reading this article will not even remember.
Researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 respondents using electroencephalograms.
Do you still remember the last word? Electro… Of course you don’t. However, this study, done by Microsoft proved that our attention span decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 (when we just started giving our 10 year olds cell phones.) To 8 seconds in 2015, this means that a goldfish can officially stay concentrated for longer than us humans with a staggering 9 seconds! This also means that within 15 years, the human race decreased attention span to the lowest point in thousands of years!
However, modern technology allows us to multitask better than before the digital era which helps us when we check our phone while watching a movie. - over 75% percent of the respondents of the study admitted that they couldn’t leave their device alone while watching Netflix.
So our gadgets are making us concentrate worse than a goldeen, ehm, I mean goldfish… But why don’t we just switch them off for a while, why don’t we enjoy nature again?- or whatever it was that you saw on that picture on Facebook?
We can’t, remember when I asked when you last switched off your phone for more than 24 hours? Probably not, I didn’t even ask that. Anyhow, The International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) asked 200 students at the University of Maryland, College Park to do a digital detox, to abstain from using all media for 24 hours.
You can do that right? Easy, it’s just 24 hours.
It might surprise you that more than half of the students failed, many within two hours. Not only that, they said they became ‘physically unwell’ and described their dependence on media afterwards using literal terms of addiction.
“Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely. I received several phone calls that I could not answer,” wrote one of the students.
“By 2:00 pm. I began to feel the urgent need to check my email, and even thought of a million ideas of why I had to. I felt like a person on a deserted island…. I noticed physically, that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am.”
So we are getting insanely addicted to something that kills our concentration, physical well-being, productivity and keeps us from doing things that matter in larger numbers than any drug.
As it used to be outrageous to pick up the phone at the dinner table, it is now a common sight in restaurants. If you are waiting for someone outside, you will probably check your phone every minute just to keep you from getting bored.
And you’re not alone, from people aged 18 to 24, 77% said that when nothing is occupying their attention, the first thing they do is reach for their phone. This automatically means that while you should be thinking about important life questions or accidentally meeting the woman or man of your life while waiting for your friend, you’re checking Instagram.
The ICMPA said that “While most didn’t enjoy the [24 hour digital detox] day-off, they reported that they had prepared for exams, settled down to routine homework and read novels. Quite a few students noted their surprise at how productive they actually could be.”
And that’s just 24 hours! It changed the lives of some of the students and definitely opened the eyes of others. The amount we spent on different kinds of media is increasing and digital technology and media companies will make sure that this trend is not stopping.
Imagine what we’ll miss if we only look at our phones instead of the environment and the people around us. Imagine what brilliant ideas we can come across while being bored. Imagine what we can do if we don’t spend over 3 hours a day looking at a digital device.
So do your digital detox and see if you can actually do it, why not raise money for Syrian refugees while you’re doing it? See if you can reduce your media usage. And most important, go read a book made from paper instead of an e-reader, go outside without Pokemon Go, go travel instead of writing “OMG so jealous! :(“ on your traveling friend’s pictures , go painting , go get into shape and go live your life without too many screens and kick that goldfish’s butt. And maybe you will be the smart person behind the answer to terrorists, killer cops, Donald Trump, Syrian refugees or ebola.