Is Digital Distraction as Bad As You Think It Is?

Terri R. Kurtzberg:

Perhaps the best way to evaluate time spent with our phones is to ask two related questions.

First, what are you doing with the time you’re devoting to your phone, and is it consistent with your values and priorities?

If you feel that you and your kids are enjoying your screen time and not risking sleep, work, or in-person interactions, you may not have much reason for concern. To help with this task, tools and apps that can track your screen time and let you know where your attention is being directed—or even limit where it can go—are becoming more prevalent.

Secondly, what are your blind spots about where and how phone use might be limiting the rest of your life?

Most of us realize we shouldn’t use phones right before bed—or, even worse, when driving or crossing streets—and we know we should keep an eye on our kids and teenagers to ensure that they are building good habits both inside and outside the digital realm. But we’re less clear on how our phones might be affecting our lives in other ways.

The latest research offers some lessons. For starters, we’re not as good as we think at multitasking: We generally give worse attention to both tasks when we try to do two things at once. Over time, people who do this constantly end up with greater error rates on tasks, perhaps linked to poorer working memories.

Even the mere presence of a phone can limit your engagement with work and your ability to build relationships with others.

All of this means that even though you may not need to worry about your phone use overall, there are still moments when you’d be wise to put your device out of sight and earshot. This will give you the best chance to think about complex tasks without interruption or to engage more fully with those around you.

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