I’m Digitally Distracted

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We’ve all been there.  You are at a Chassidic concert, the singer and orchestra are singing a beautiful song lifting your Neshoma to new heights, and then all of a sudden, the guy sitting three rows in front of you down to the left has a loud, disruptive ring coming out of his pocket.  Your moment is ruined!  Perhaps you are in the middle of davening in the morning.  It is difficult enough to keep your Kavona in a good place, but you are there, in the middle of Shmona Esrei, and the guy at the end of the row, for some reason hasn’t turned off his phone and the theme from the opera Carmen begins blaring out of his jacket.  Your moment is gone too.  And then there is that conversation you are having with a friend that gets interrupted when her pocket book starts ringing.  We live in a very different world, and it is a world that has change much because of the advancement of technology, but not all of that change is positive.

We have been made aware of the dangers of being online and Baruch Hashem, we can put filters on our devices if we must use them for work. With the help of our Rabbonim, over the last few years, people have changed from smartphones to kosher phones, limited their computers to email only, and when possible, have left any online activity to the work place when necessary.  But aside from the known dangers of internet, even our simple, kosher devices cause problems.

Mobile technology has brought unprecedented advantages, but excessive electronic stimulation produces negative consequences. Digital distraction can harm mental health and cause physical injury from accidents. Some scientists think that our constant engagement in media and telephones is one of the most serious threats to humanity.  On the other hand, some experts think that multitasking with electronic devices may increase the brain’s processing speed.

Distraction from electronic devices is not only real, it is increasing weekly. Although we generally refer to use of multiple devices, or using one device for multiple tasks as multitasking, there really is no such thing.  “Nobody truly multitasks except in rare situations.  What we are doing is “task switching” according to Larry D Rosen PhD. at California State University.  “We tell our brains to focus on something different for a moment or longer, then we try to go back to our original task.  The problem is that digital technology is highly engaging and lures our attention away easily-and when we return, we need to reconstruct what we were doing and hopefully have enough time to complete the task.”  But what is the real impact of digital distraction?

There is more stress. Forty-nine percent of employees who use the Internet or email at work say that technologies such as the Internet, email, cell phones and instant messaging have increased job stress (Madden & Jones 2008). Early research on “technostress” showed that frequent introduction of new software, rapid changes in workplace technology and more time pressures from technology increased workplace stress (Arnetz 1997).

There is more anxiety. More individuals are suffering from “phantom vibration syndrome”—the perception that a cell phone is vibrating when it isn’t. This has been suggested as evidence of anxiety among those obsessed with mobile phones (Rosen et al. 2013). Some individuals suffer anxiety when they can’t check devices and/or social media frequently, but researchers have yet to determine whether this anxiety harms health (Durocher et al. 2011).

It’s difficult to disconnect from work. Among professionals and managers, increased technological connectivity leads to longer work hours and more challenges disconnecting during nonworking hours (Madden & Jones 2008). Those aged 30–49 have the most difficulty disconnecting fully from work, and this is impacting their life balance.

People find it hard to concentrate. Only 38% of employed adults who go online, use email or own a cell phone say technologies have made it harder for them to focus at work, while 50% of those who own a PDA or Blackberry note problems concentrating at work (Madden & Jones 2008). These statistics, however, predate the proliferation of iPhones and other smartphones. The typical U.S. worker is interrupted every 3 minutes (Silverman 2012).

Sleep is disrupted, and depression sets in. In a study of 4,100 young adults aged 20–24, conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, heavy mobile-phone use was linked to an increase in sleeping difficulties among men and an increase in depression in both men and women. Heavy computer use was related to increased stress, sleeping problems and depression in women and to sleeping problems in men (Thomee 2012).

There’s an increase in distracted-driving and distracted-pedestrian accidents. Nearly 400,000 people are killed or injured each year in distracted-driving accidents in the United States. Distractions include anything that diverts manual, visual or cognitive attention from driving. Since texting includes all three, it is of particular concern (NHTSA 2013). Pedestrians who use mobile phones while walking also cross unsafely into oncoming traffic significantly more often than other pedestrians (Weksler & Weksler 2012).

The ability to learn is being undermined. Theories of how humans learn emphasize the importance of downtime, which allows the brain to process new information. Some experts are concerned that constant stimulation interferes with this learning process (Richtel 2010b). Students who accessed Facebook more frequently when studying had lower grade-point averages than those who avoided it (Rosen et al. 2013a).

Multitasking is a myth. This already mentioned fact is backed up by a lab-based study. Heavy media multitaskers were worse at ignoring irrelevant but distracting information than light media multitaskers (Ophir, Nass & Wagner 2009). Heavy media multitaskers perceived themselves as being more effective than they actually were (Sanbonmatsu et al. 2013).

In addition, spending unnecessary time in front of computers slows your metabolism and leads to weight gain.

As someone who has done much of his exercising outdoors, I can’t emphasize the great benefits of leaving that cell phone behind and enjoying the fresh air, the green trees and letting your mind relax and not having to worry about that phone ringing.  It is very rare that any of us deal with true emergencies.  It is understandable that a doctor may have to be connected most of the time and possible security personnel.  But for you and I, they can leave a message and you can call back later. It was a mere 20 years ago that the idea of having to be available all the time was practically non-existent.  You don’t have to be!  Give yourself a break.  Unfortunately, the addictive nature of cellular and wireless devices in all forms has even brought people to the unthinkable when it comes to keeping many different Mitzvahs.  So be careful and be aware.

Digital technologies has advanced many areas of life and can even save lives, but don’t be enslaved by it.  Keeping your digital distractions to a minimum will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”  

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@loseit.co.il   Check out the Lose It! web site – www.loseit.co.il    US Line: 516-568-5027