The Digital Downside

It is true that a Baby Boomer like me did not grow up familiar with advanced technology and digital devices. But that perspective gives those of my generation a broader approach to today’s digital age, both in appreciation and caution. Regardless of age, most of us keep our phones within reach and have recently checked the screen for some sort of notification. Let’s examine the good, the bad and the ugly of the digital revolution and its impact on business, family and personal lives.

Granted, today’s technological capabilities have brought about a revolution not possible two decades ago. Once an acceleration of productivity, however, technology advances can now be observed doing just the opposite in some ways. I’ve combed through the research and read the expert opinions and believe there are some important impacts of the digital world to examine.

According to a study from The Bank of England, smartphone users touch their screen between twice a minute to once every seven minutes. Yet, when an email, text or phone call interrupts a task or project, it reduces the work IQ up to 10 points when compared with a quiet environment. This is the equivalent of losing an entire night’s sleep, using marijuana or drinking four alcoholic drinks in under 90 minutes. Some studies indicate the chance of error increases nearly 20 times, and it takes up to 30 minutes to recover focus after the interruption.

More distractions and interruptions teach the brain to seek diversion as gratification. Yes, technology will initially increase multitasking and raise productivity. However, eventually juggling all the different balls splits the focus, reduces performance and increases the incidence of error.

Today’s digital distractions not only reduce performance, but also suppress empathy and human connection. And with less human interaction, serious and in-depth discussions can become a real challenge for some. In addition, research points toward digital distractions as one cause of reduced happiness. One can easily experience an onslaught of negative news, which can hamper one’s focus, and invite less strategic and more tactical behavior.

In sessions and seminars, I have observed firsthand the impact of digital distractions. Frequently, individuals miss a major concept being taught because of digital distractions and later ask questions in confusion. I have also noticed that being lost in the digital fog reduces interconnectivity with others and compromises networking opportunities. And I find conversations and discussions with those tied to their digital device much more superficial.

Yes, the digital world has almost boundless benefits. From fewer paper files to information on anything at your fingertips, this age of technology is amazing. But can we shut down the technology long enough to critically think about the information we are receiving, and then responsibly communicate that in conversation or in writing?

I am part of a generation that has been exposed to a different way, and like any tool, digital devices will be more efficient when we understand their benefits and drawbacks. If nothing else, I hope this article gave you a quick break from your digital distractions.