Riegel: Living in an era of digital distractions

One night, while working late on her MacBook, Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel found herself clicking on a “rare family photograph of Kim Kardashian and clan” that had popped up on her Twitter feed.

“I couldn’t resist,” she writes in her latest column. “I wish I had. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say those were 20 seconds of my life that could have been better spent.”

Riegel says she likes to think she’s too old, wise or disciplined to succumb to click bait and other distractions on traditional and social media.

“Apparently, I’m not. As a child of the 1970s, it’s just too tempting to pass up a chance to see what Charlie’s Angels or the Walton family kids look like now. I indulge,” she acknowledges. “I rationalize it on the grounds that I must have writer’s block and need to take a break from a story on the intricacies of industrial tax exemptions or heated race relations in divided Baton Rouge.”

Riegel says she often rationalizes indulging in such online frivolity on the grounds that she must have writer’s block and needs to take a break from a story.

“Maybe checking my text messages or my kids on Snapchat or the headlines on newspaper websites—increasingly polluted with low-brow click bait such as ‘Brady Bunch star gave the crew a little extra’ and ‘13 actors who are surprisingly gay’—will help the thoughts to flow more freely,” she writes. “Twenty minutes later I’m more lost than I was before I started.”

Riegel thinks a lot about the impact of digital distractions at work, and wonders what it’s doing to our ability to process information and to focus on what really matters.

“Our attention spans are shorter. Even the most learned among us find themselves frustrated that they no longer have the patience to wade through a 10,000-word story or a 700-page book, however well written,” she writes. “Our minds start to wander. Our digital lifestyle has rewired the circuity in our brains.”

As Riegel notes, a 2015 Microsoft Corp. study found that the average human attention span has decreased since the year 2000 from 12 seconds to eight, shorter than that of the average goldfish. On the positive side, she says, the same study found our ability to multitask has increased.

“Encouraging to know we can now flip from email to social media platforms to spreadsheets and Word documents without missing a beat,” she writes. “But, of course, we are missing something. We just don’t realize what is being lost.”

Read the full column. Send your comments to editor@businessreport.com.

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