do we do ourselves down with digital distractions?

Wnysoc-mediae talk a lot on this blog about the importance of being connected. Of having strong professional connections to help you as you develop your career, and of being connected to peers and colleagues within your discipline. It’s also certainly true that connecting with other people can help you to protect and improve your mental wellbeing

However, I’ve been thinking vaguely for a while about the fact that we’re all so connected, and expect everyone to be similarly connected and responsive. I’m sure we can all think of times when we’ve received an email at night, only to have a follow up email ping into our inbox by the next morning because we haven’t replied in the 12 (non-working) hours in between. Maybe we’ve sometimes been the pinger, too.

I was recently at a conference, and realised, about a third of the way into the morning session, that I’d been so busy tweeting the highlights that I hadn’t engaged as deeply as I normally would. Tweeting at conferences is kind of expected now, and as I searched the conference hashtag, it became apparent that I was far from alone in doing this. But – shocker! – when I put the phone down and moved away from the hashtag, I was better able to listen to and think about the topic being discussed. In short, I got way more out of it.

In the wake of this, I did a bit of poking around (on the internet, of course) and found some really interesting research led by Clifford Nass, who was Professor of Communication at Stanford until his death in 2013. His co-authored paper, Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers, was an eye-opener into the way that heavy media multitasking affects those doing it: “They’re suckers for irrelevancy…everything distracts them.”


I also listened to a really moving and shocking TEDx Talk by Caroline Giegerich, about her struggles with what she terms “digital addiction.” Whilst I can’t say that I’ve ever felt the anxiety that Caroline has when separated from social media, I certainly recognised  the intrusion of online notifications into my offline life. It made me think much more seriously about scheduling tech-free time into my work and personal life, to see what effect it may have on my  creativity and concentration.

This morning, though, when I came to post my piece, I found that our internet was inexplicably dead. Not just poorly, not just a bit slow, but dead. An ex parro router.

Considering the topic of my post, the irony was not lost on me.

But, in between trying to actually talk to an actual person to find out when it would be fixed, I decided not to stress. I had teaching to plan and articles to write, both of which could be done, at least in good part, without recourse to the web. At first, it felt a bit weird to sit quietly concentrating without the “noise” of digital interaction or distraction, but it made me think about things in a different way – I had no Google to reassure me that I was on the right track (whatever that might be); no Facebook to bounce ideas off people. It was strangely empowering. I got LOADS done, without the distractions of emails, social media and cat pics.

Obviously, social media has a place in the way we communicate and the way we live; I guess we do all need tech in our work lives, but my short-lived, enforced digital detox made me realise that, actually, sometimes we just need to stop. To stop tweeting, to stop blogging, to stop emailing and to actually give ourselves space and time to think, to problem solve, to write, to create.

Who’s with me?

Image credit here.

1 Comment

  1. This is a great piece. I wont say I am addicted to the social media, but I drop in to flip through comments and possibly information that could be of great importance. But I think I also need to schedule time and reduce the time I allot to the social media. I also need to do some thinking and creativity offline.


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