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PAM FRAMPTON: Madly off in all directions

With constant prompts and notifications from our cellphones and computers, it’s easy to get caught in the web. —
With constant prompts and notifications from our cellphones and computers, it’s easy to get caught in the web. — 123RF Stock Photo

Why social media and digital multitasking are eroding our attention spans

“Digital media scratches the itch that it creates.” — A.N. Turner

As I write this column, it’s Dec. 19 and I’m sitting at my desk. The mellow Muzak soundtrack of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry plays in the background.


On my computer screen, the Excel app is bouncing; demanding attention.

A new piece of Muzak starts — I’ve heard it tons of times since the inquiry began, but the shift in tempo is distracting. It’s an upbeat piano piece that draws my mind from the page as my thoughts wander.

Why don’t I mute the music? Because I want to know when the inquiry resumes after a break, and I like to have the webcast playing in the background to try and absorb some of the testimony while I’m writing or editing or doing paperwork.

Paperwork. The bouncing Excel app. I was printing an invoice when I started writing this. The thought of the invoice takes my mind to my own finances. I check my bank balance on my iPhone app.

Picking up my phone, I see a notification that someone has responded to one of my tweets. I check my notifications.

Chime! An email arrives in my computer inbox.

Bing! The same email arrives via my iPhone email app.

Back to Twitter. Florence has tweeted about the inquiry, where former premier Kathy Dunderdale is on the stand today: “We’re seeing a predictable parade of people suffering memory loss.”

Now the inquiry Muzak is a slow, melancholy guitar piece that sounds a lot like “Who’s Going to Drive you Home?” — a song I remember fondly from my university years. Who did that again? I Google: oh yeah — The Cars! Loved that band.

Chime! An email arrives in my computer inbox. Bing! The same email arrives via my iPhone email app.

My banking app has timed out, so I have to log back in to check my balance.

Chime! Bing! More email. I minimize my writing screen to check my inbox.

Oh, it’s another invoice from a columnist. I must print that one off. Wait — the Excel app is bouncing and won’t load for some reason.

What was I writing about again? Oh yes, about how our addiction to digital media has led to multitasking mayhem that does us more harm than good.

It’s one of the many fascinating themes in the 2017 book “Trapped in The Web: How I Liberated Myself from Internet Addiction, and How You Can Too.” It’s definitely a worthwhile read as you begin a fresh new year — a perfect time to break bad habits and adopt good ones.

Author A.N. Turner is an American and an industry insider who has worked for one of Facebook’s marketing partners. He knows first-hand about digital addiction and draws many interesting parallels between depression, lack of self-confidence and social media, and pornography and violence against women. He explores how a reliance on technology can lead to instant gratification and constant stimulation but little true satisfaction and contentment as it compels a desire to constantly feed the beast.

He dedicates the book to “the young adults of my generation who have borne the costs of the recent advance in technology — the paradigm shift of instantly accessible social and sexual entertainment. They are victims of a social experiment gone awry.”

Turner explains how social media giants like Facebook, far from creating a safe place for social connection, routinely strip-mines personal data for marketing and selling purposes. “You are not a patron or customer of social media sites;” Turner writes, “you are their bread and butter.”

And, if the lead-in to this column is any indication, multitasking that includes responding to or being prompted by any number of devices and apps, does not make you more productive — it fractures your thoughts and attention and actually erodes attention span, studies have shown.

“Now our phones are always at our fingertips, and we are always waiting, always watching, which erodes our ability to engage in focused work,” Turner writes.

In 2019, try turning off your app notifications.

Shed those digital shackles when you can, and free your mind.

Related links

Trapped in the web

Manoush Zomorodi TED talk

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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