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I’ve been able to find artists complaining about smart phones online for a while now. While they write long form stories that drive to the ultimate point, make wall graffiti, and produce click-bait videos addressing how much they dislike smart phones they very rarely are very clear on how it’s bad for us. I’d go as far as to say that they don’t provide evidence on how they are bad for us- artists are typically in the business of moving people through emotions and not concrete arguments. Luckily, economists do the job that a lot of artists can’t- find correlations using big data to promote their arguments.


Is the economy suffering from the crisis of attention?

A study on how many times we check our smart phones in 2017 shows how a typical user checks their phone 150 times a day. https://www.slideshare.net/kleinerperkins/kpcb-internet-trends-2013/52-Mobile_Users_Reach_to_Phone It also shows we spend about 2.5 hours on our phone a day, typically spread across 76 sessions.

 

Designers I know famously put down social media entirely during their production stage. Designers like Jersey Virago recognize how bad cyber slacking can get. Is stepping away really enough though? How bad can the toll be for a mind that is constantly distracted even after we try to focus? This is a bit more of a theory crafted idea- but there is a notion that people who are used to getting distracted will distract themselves if no external distraction arises.


So, I assume the person reading this is a designers, marketers, and/or a photographer. I really think photographers do a good job of building a fortress around focusing- when you get into an editing mode or a shooting mode, you really can’t be knocked out of it easily. If you get knocked out of that mode, it can easily take a half hour to recover and get running again, so photographers who make this a habit quickly aren’t photographers.

Designers and marketers are in a different boat. If you work in an office place, you are often FORCED to be distracted. Large collaboration groups are impossible to navigate with out distraction and side conversations. Most of the productive people I know wake up early to be productive- the reason they do this is that there is no one else up to distract them. They can work by themselves in peace, before meeting up with the group. They have to avoid their team to reach peak productivity. When not located in an office (this is typically more what I work with directly) other people are constantly reaching out to you and trying to distract you. They know you aren’t “working” so they themselves want your time and attention. As noted above, this is typically averted by “signing off” to be able to get work done.

 

What about side projects- and my love letters?

I feel my phone has killed my ability to write love letters. The whole notion seems pointless when I can send them a Snapchat. The ability to focus is so hard when the phone is constantly buzzing. Writing the love letter should be fun- and not needing to prevent your distraction. So I allow the distraction to exist. Yes, this whole article was written to discuss how my phone has destroyed my ability to effectively write love letters. It wasn’t always this way; I was writing effectively even two years ago… but the phone has gotten so good at devouring my attention.

I think we’re managed to use big data to help create a phone that is very hard to keep ourselves away from. Particularly the distraction. This distraction comes mostly from other people; we’ve created a loop where we can always talk to someone. Whenever a friend is lonely, they can message me. These messages and interactions FEEL GOOD. If I don’t respond fast enough, women have turned to sending lewds and nudes- with that it makes their messages have a Skinner box effect that every once and a while I open their message for immediate satisfaction.

There is a crisis for attention in my world. It is crucial for me to pay attention effectively to individual tasks to cultivate empathy and emotion. Though, unless my 9-5 depends on it, it is very difficult to even bother applying my attention. All of my empathy goes into my work, and the rest is dissolved by distraction.

Scott Gallaway addresses this in one of his videos, as below:

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