In his new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains , Nicholas Carr, outlines several ways that the always on, 24/7 nature of the internet is a double-edged sword – providing us with unprecedented access to information while at the same time slashing our attention span, re-wiring our brains, and slowing intellectual development.
A diet of social media isn’t exactly conducive to the contemplative life lived by the great thinkers of previous ages. In fact, it’s closer to that of cavemen hunting for their next meal while trying to avoid being eaten by another predator.
On balance, I don’t actually believe that the internet hurts innovation, but there are downsides. Carr alludes to one that I wrote about in Simplifying Innovation– something I call Device Attention Deficit Syndrome (DADS). We use the phone, email, texting, and even Facebook and Twitter as substitutes for real interpersonal communication and we allow the devices that deliver them to become a constant distraction when we are actually communicating with each other.
How many of you have had someone check their crack-berry messages or take a cell phone call during a conversation? How about typing away, doing email during a meeting. And how many of you may have even done so yourself? I know I have. What kind of message did that send the people I was meeting with? Not exactly the way to build bridges is it?
From an innovation perspective, these constant interruptions have an insidious effect of productivity. They prevent our brains from getting to that productive alpha state, where the creative juices are flowing, where problems are more-easily solved, and where we are at our intellectual peak. And when we do get the 10 – 20 minute of focus necessary to reach that state, the next interruption sends us right back to beta again.
Several solutions for avoiding DADS:
- When you need to concentrate, turn off your cellphone and send your office phone to voicemail.
- Limit checking voice-mail and email to 2 or 3 scheduled times per day.
- Ban laptops, cellphones, smartphones, iPads, and any other electronic communications devices from meetings.
- Forget the open door policy unless it’s an emergency. For those of you that don’t have doors buy a few traffic cones or get some of that yellow emergency scene tape to let folks know you’re trying to concentrate.
What do you think? Share your strategies for overcoming electronic distraction.