Mobile Phone Distraction, and the Multi-tasking Myth

mobile phone?New Google President Sundar Pichai was recently ambushed interviewed by a rather aggressive interviewer from the New York Times about the increasingly intrusive nature of mobile phones. The interviewer was implying that it was the task of Google to make phones less distracting, intrusive and anti-social.

CONOR DOUGHERTY was obviously fishing for a quote on “phone intrusion“, and turned a real opportunity into an embarrassing attempted ambush. Sundar was too polite to tell him to move on, but I think from the editing of the interview and comments, that readers can see the trend in the questions.

His proposition is completely wrong. Everyone has control of their own phone. The apps used, and the way of using them is at the discretion of the user. We each can choose to mute alerts, close apps, or mute the phone completely.

If there is any case for intrusion, I think it is management expecting employees to stay connected to their jobs 24 x 7, via e-mail, text and phone simply because the technology is available. An example is Microsoft’s pitch for Office 365. It lets you keep working on vacation, at the kid’s recital, or over dinner.

The individual must make their own decision as to how they will respond for the welfare of themselves and their families.

The belief that we can “multi-task” if we are smart or young enough is completely incorrect. The mind focuses well only on one thing at a time. Creative people are familiar with the concept of “flow” or being “in the zone”. This is that wonderful place we go when the right side of the brain takes over what we are doing, and we become productive. Really productive. We also lose all track of time, and, often, our ability to speak is impaired.

Some companies are now hiring people based on their (percieved) ability to multi-task. And some use this mythical ability as a keystone of their resume. But the damage done by multi-tasking is now well documented.

The Guardian Newspaper quotes MIT’s Earl Miller as saying “People can’t do [multitasking] very well, and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.”

The constant distraction caused by interruptions of any type severely disrupt our ability to be productive. They can also annoy or offend others, in meetings or a social setting.

So:

  • Turn off phone notifications.
  • Let workmates know you do not reply to messages and e-mail instantly, but are batching it up to process at a set time each day.
  • Unless it is being used for notes, PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY in meetings.
  • At business lunches, pile the phones up on top of each other in the middle of the table, and the first person to grab his phone pays for lunch.
  • Focus on one thing for 25 or 55 minutes, take a break, and move on to the next thing.

A smartphone is a powerful tool, and it can help us in many situations from navigating to an unfamiliar destination to providing weather, flight, and accommodation information. But if we allow to to distract us constantly with Twitter, e-mail, Facebook and Instagram notifications, we are becoming slaves to a device designed to help us.

If we do not control our phone It becomes our master, not our slave.

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Written by Phil Stephens of Philstephens.com.au .

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