It’s a truly amazing time to be alive. We’ve got so many platforms to speak from, so many new ways to entertain and educate ourselves. We’re genuinely grateful to be so thoroughly tapped into our world. Understandably we don’t want to miss a moment of it. And with our phones always within reach, we never have to.
As wonderful as it is that technology has the power to connect us, we need to be mindful of all the ways that it can disconnect us, not just from the world* but from ourselves. The hard truth is that we’ve become addicted to constant stimulation. We’re like spoilt children, demanding that every second of our waking hours be entertaining. We keep one eye on Reddit while we eat**, we half-watch TV while we tidy our houses, we can’t even go for a run without being plugged in to our headphones. We can never just be anymore, to the point where a lot of us (myself included) are guilty of consistently double-screening. Y’know, browsing Facebook while Netflix plays in the background (because God forbid we should sit in silence for three seconds while the next episode loads).
It’s fair to say that Generation Y prides itself on multitasking. Watching a movie at home, we’ll grab our phones to look up that actor who looks super familiar. Getting coffee with our bestie we’ll quickly refresh our email, just in case we’ve missed something. Working at our computers we’ll flick through a handful of tabs, alternating between checking our Facebook and researching our latest project. Here’s the thing though: multi-tasking is literally impossible. Human brains can’t perform more than one task at a time, so what we’re actually doing is switching rapidly from task to task and burning our poor little heads out in the process. Research done by the Institute of Psychiatry at University of London suggests that this can actually have a negative impact on our IQ – which is terrifying.
So the trouble isn’t just that overstimulation is making us spoilt – it’s kind of making us stupid, and more than a little forgetful. As of 2015, the average adult’s attention span is just 8.25 seconds. In the year 2000, it was almost 4 seconds longer. We’re not even taking in that much information – according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, most of us are only likely to read about 28% of any article we open. We’re only likely to tolerate about 2 minutes of any video we watch. We’re struggling to keep our attention on just one thing at a time because we’ve got so many distractions – usually sitting right in our hand.
I’m not saying you should give up your technical vices – I certainly couldn’t. But you can empower yourself by breaking the cycle of overstimulation. Here’s how you can start:
Resist the Double Screen and Multi Tab
Make the conscious decision to focus and to actually enjoy the content you’re consuming. If you’re browsing online, make an effort to stick to one tab at a time. If you’re watching TV, watch it. If you’re sitting down to eat, put your phone away, turn off the TV and savour your meal. Whenever you feel the impulse to Google something, jot it down in a notebook and if it’s still important later you can come back to it.
Carve Out Some “Blackout” Time
Even if you can’t go all day, just choose a regularly scheduled time to be offline. Try just a few minutes of meditation or yoga in the morning to start the day off with the mindset of being present. If that’s not your thing, end the day with a long walk a few times a week. Take up an offline project like a jigsaw puzzle or a colouring book (don’t scoff, grown up colouring books are all the rage – people swear by their soothing, meditative effect!) You could even commit to having a bedtime for your tech devices; you’ll sleep better, since the bright light from those screens can trick your brain into staying alert at night!
Use Your Brain
You can improve your memory by challenging your brain, and the same sort of cognitive exercise should help with your concentration. For a tech solution, download the Duolingo app and spend a few minutes a day learning a new language or brushing up on one you already speak. Multilingual people are at lesser risk of Alzheimer’s, don’t you know! For an offline solution, buy yourself a book of paper puzzles (like crosswords and Sudoku) or enrol in a free course in your city to pick up a new skill like knitting. The idea is to give your brain a work out, so whatever way you do it, keep on learning!
Technology is seductive. Having Google in our pockets and Netflix on our screens can make us feel unstoppable. We have access to an endless supply of content and knowledge and when we use that kind of power responsibly it’s true that there’s very little we can’t learn from it. But if our addiction to bright little screens is robbing us of our brainpower, we can’t make the most of all that information anyway. This is just one of a thousand reasons to put down our bloody phones and practice being more mindful. It’s a difficult habit to break, but the end of the day, not one of us will look back on our death beds and wish we’d spent more time playing Candy Crush.
PS. If you’ve made it this far, good for you!
** Overstimulation while we eat can actually contribute to weight gain because we’re too distracted to notice our bellies getting full!