As soon as you spend a couple of minutes talking about the ability to stay focused on something, especially outside of our mobile screen, you start getting testimonials from people close to you who are incredibly attached to their smartphone.
Starting by admitting it to oneself often serves to get the other person to take off the mask and acknowledge it as well. We look at our cell phone every ten to fifteen minutes if we get the slightest chance, which doesn’t always mean it’s a good time to do so. We divert our attention too often. We get bored with too many things.
If it happens to so many people, there is something behind it. It has to do with the way screens are made, they seek to capture our attention as much as possible with the minimum effort on our part. When you read a book or do some other activity, you have to do the process of sustained attention. When you look at a screen, it does that all by itself, the stimuli change a lot, both visually and aurally. Everything moves at such a speed that when you go at the speed of the real world it seems boring, slow. That’s where things like watching videos or listening to audio at 2x come from. In the real world you get bored because you are not hyperstimulated, you are the one who has to keep your attention.
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Addictive social networks
TikTok is the perfect example: very short videos made to engage, they are constantly changing. They are stimuli. As they know the neuropsychological mechanisms behind attention, they manage to hook us. This has its effects on our daily lives: we are so used to fast content, of immediate stimuli, that when we watch long productions like a movie we get bored if there is no action from minute one.
Everyone agrees that these distractions have consequences in their work. While there are no dramatic situations, there are more than they would like. No one has ever been fired for it, but they do tend to work longer hours than they should to compensate for their absent-mindedness, or to overextend their deadlines.
Fast and constant stimuli also influence the times when we are more prone to distractions. Or that we look more to the cell phone as an instant escape. If there is something ahead of us that is going to take many hours, the brain invites us to distract ourselves with something else, and so begin scrolling sessions, switching from one social network to another, checking messaging, etc.
The myth of multitasking
Intermittent attention flows due to checking email every few minutes resulted in poorer performance, but also in greater stress for the employee due to the change of focus. Thanks to numerous studies, we now know that multitasking kills productivity. Switching from work to constant consultation of the cell phone is another form of multitasking.
Beyond work productivity or the satisfaction of artistic and creative activities, we also know that boredom is somewhat necessary, especially to generate empty spaces in which we begin to think, generate ideas and our creativity flows. Not necessarily linked to work, but simply to have moments in which to think about ourselves. The hand looking for the cell phone when we have a moment of boredom, as in a waiting room or while we go up in the elevator, is also killing those spaces.
Psychological problem in the background
Is there a way back or has our ability to concentrate been permanently eroded? This is something that can be recovered once you start working on those attention processes, we are not talking about brain damage. If my attention was deteriorating because my brain was deteriorating, that would be another kind of problem. Simply put, the compulsive behavior of checking the phone is interfering with tasks that prevent sustained attention.
Such compulsive behavior resembles that of a smoker reaching for his cigarette every few minutes, although it also fits the mechanics of gambling. The cigarette does not bring you a pleasure or a benefit, it is not positive reinforcement, it is smoked for negative reinforcement, to alleviate the withdrawal syndrome. The cell phone explains an addictive behavior, because we do not know when the reward will come. Like in a slot machine. We are constantly looking for a prize in the form of a photo to share with friends, a video that makes us laugh, a text that we like to read… The simile is with the slot machine.
Solutions to cell phone dependence
The way out is mainly through an awareness that is accompanied by gradual actions to make a more conscious use of the mobile, and less by acquired inertia. For example, set a goal of spending fifteen minutes without looking at the cell phone. Then, half an hour. Then, one hour… In this way, we get out of the habit. More than a problem of attention, it is a behavioral problem.
As with compulsive gambling, therapy is often sought when the symptoms are already so evident that the whole social circle has perceived them as serious. It is not usual to go to that extreme, but neither does the loss of attention in many areas due to the cell phone seem to be a residual problem.