Is Technology Ruining Our Ability to Concentrate?

This year several major news sources like Time Magazine and the New York Times released articles describing humanity’s new shortened attention span thanks to smartphones and technology. The clickbait headlines shouted that goldfish can now concentrate for longer than humans can. Smartphone detractors have long said that smartphones are damaging our brains and ruining our ability to communicate. Is the situation really so dire, or have we lost our attention spans only to gain other skills?

Your Attention Span Is Eight Seconds

According to Microsoft, in the year 2000, the human attention span averaged 12 seconds. Since then, that span has dropped to eight seconds, one second less than the goldfish.

Maybe it will help us to understand what attention span is. (You can zone out for a second before reading the definition, nobody will fault you for it!) Dictionary.com defines attention span as: “the interval during which an individual can concentrate, as on a single object, idea, or activity.”

Microsoft’s methodology involved research in Canada; scientists studied 112 participants’ brain activity and surveyed 2,000 more people to come up with this eight-second attention span. Multi-screen smartphone use is a major culprit of our shortening attention: humans have a harder time filtering out irrelevant information because we spend a lot of our smartphone time navigating between multiple information streams.

You Can Multitask Better Than Before

If this worries you, don’t panic! Or go ahead and panic, because you’ll still be able to do several other things at once. Microsoft also found that we’re both better at multitasking, and better at quickly deciding what information we do and don’t want to engage with.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information worked with the National Library of Medicine studied humans and smartphone usage, too. Their research found that 79 percent of people watch TV and use their smartphones at the same time.

How Worried Should We Be?

How many times have you navigated away from this blog post? How many screens do you have open while you’re reading this? Ultimately, our shortening attention spans actually point to how amazing and adaptable our brains are. Time Magazine reports that Microsoft has a theory about this eight-second attention span: our brains are adapting to the new technology we have created.

Many headlines talk about what smartphones are “doing” to our brains, as though they’ve wormed their way in and are slowly destroying our neurons. Perhaps we should see it a different way: that our brains have recognized the need to interact with the world differently to continue surviving. However you view it, this phenomenon is certainly fascinating.

If you worry that your attention span is suffering thanks to your smartphone, resources are available to help you break the addiction. Apps that monitor your usage and apps that lock you out of the internet for set periods of time will help you focus on other things. Try reading a paper book (not an e-book) or spending time outside while your smartphone waits for you at home. Or simply embrace your changing brain as it adapts to our digital age and open as many phone screens as you want!

Image via Flickr by Japanexperterna.se