“So capable that you won’t want to put it down. So thin and light that you won’t have to.” Today, it is not uncommon to encounter such advertisements touting perpetually new and better capabilities that promise to enhance productivity and accessibility. Designed to be portable to ensure that devices are only an arm’s length away, technology has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives, from Fitbits that track heart rate to mobile applications that analyze sleep cycles. While using devices is now more convenient than ever before, this convenience can put users’ well-being at risk, both personally and socially. Because of this, we need to consider how we use technology and how it impacts us, for a sheen of superficial usefulness may be veiling more serious ramifications.
Though technology is often perceived as a means to increase our personal productivity, it can potentially do the opposite when it negatively divides our attention, which is why we should examine the role of technology in our lives. Devices such as laptops, tablets, e-readers, and phones constantly feed us endless streams of data, inviting our attention and compelling us to multitask. Multitasking, which in reality is only switching between tasks, is more detrimental than it is productive. A 2009 study conducted at Stanford University indicated that multitasking reduces the efficiency of carrying out a task. The subjects in the experiment who did not multitask could complete tasks more quickly and switch more successfully from one task to another. While doing more than one thing at a time may feel more efficient, doing so actually takes longer because multitasking divides attention, making it difficult to switch between tasks without redirecting focus. For example, watching a television show while studying for a test or texting while doing homework prevents you from engaging in either.
Technology has a way of slipping into our regular habits, and it is up to us to recognize when it is hampering our productivity, such as the case of multitasking. We should be conscious of the time we actually spend productively versus the time we expend toggling between technology in an unproductive habit of incessantly checking feeds and refreshing social media. All it takes to prevent potential technological interferences with work productivity is to designate time to concentrate on work or study. Rather than having a device close at hand, charge it elsewhere so the access to check notifications is not so readily available. Everyone’s own needs and habits are different, so students should adjust their practices accordingly with a new awareness of their technology use. Before downloading more apps or buying the latest devices, students should, on a case by case basis, carefully consider how the addition of said technology will help boost productivity. A recent Common Sense Media survey indicated that teenagers spend an average of nine hours a day with media, over 50% of conscious time for a teenager who sleeps eight hours. This significant amount of time dedicated to media can be drawing attention away from more beneficial and productive activities. In examining present technological habits, students should strive to appropriately allot time that maximizes efficiency.
People are increasingly distracted by technology, so much that some have become isolated, even in social settings. We have all been in some social setting, where though there was everything to talk about, some people were constantly checking their phones. There is no doubt that technology has an awesome power to connect people. But the time we spend on technology, especially social media, can create obstacles to leading healthy social lives. For many, accessing social media isn’t an occasional or a purposeful action: It is a continuous habit that consumes time throughout the day. Even when simply communicating directly with others, there is a tendency to have conversations with multiple people at once without substance because our attention is divided between the multiple conversations and the real world in front of us. According to the American Psychological Association, social networking can “[erode] our ability to live comfortably offline.” Retreating too often to a digital screen can lead to emotional detachment and even anxiety.
Beyond our own individual usage, it is important to realize that social media companies’ interests don’t align with users’ intentions: Social media companies aim not just to provide a channel of communication, but to draw users in for long periods of time, often so users view more ads. Social media companies have expanded way beyond simple communication. Facebook, for one, recently bought Oculus VR, a virtual reality company that produces immersive head-mounted displays. User immersion, though it may be entertaining or captivating, does not provide social experiences. Often, these technologies provide just a semblance of social behavior. Prioritizing face-to-face communication and interaction is an important part of effective social media usage. It can be done by limiting the size of your social networks to those people you genuinely want to communicate with.
Whether our technological habits involve checking Facebook statuses, emailing, or sending pictures on Snapchat, we should maintain an awareness of how this technology affects our productivity and lifestyle. Doing so can bastion us against allowing technology to unduly intrude into our lives and even negatively impact our social relations.