Smartphones and social media: new technology with newer distractions

For all of the benefits that smartphones give us, it is undeniable that they can be near constant distractions. This is due to the fact that they are always on our person, acting almost as an additional limb. Anyone who has ever stood up to leave and gotten that horrible moment of shock and ensuing panic when they cannot feel their phone in their pocket knows what I’m talking about! They have become so familiar to us that they act as a comfort or reassuring presence as evidenced by the far more enjoyable moment four seconds later when you realise it was just in your coat pocket rather than your jeans’ one.


People absorbed in their smartphones by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra Flickr
People absorbed in their smartphones. Photo credit: Flickr


While everyone reading this can probably relate to this over-reliance through personal experience, it is not all we have to go on. Numerous studies have been carried out on the topic and the results are quite worrying. One study, ‘The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification‘, carried out by Florida State University concluded that even the act of noticing you have a new notification can derail our concentration as while that ringing or buzzing alert might not last long, it sets off a chain reaction. Unless you have far more mental power than myself and just about everyone I know, you cannot help but wonder who it’s from, what it’s about as well as how you might respond. The study authors, Cary Stothart, Ainsley Mitchum and Courtney Yehnert say that ‘Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance’. The subsequent thought process that follows not only interrupts your concentration but also takes up a sizable chunk of your ‘bandwidth’, which is explained to be the amount of mental energy you are able to devote to a task. Sadly, as we all know from five-hour sessions in the library where you really only get one hour’s worth of work done, it is definitely a limited resource.


Modern College Life by Francisco Osorio Flickr
Modern college life. Photo credit: Flickr


Another key point to stress is that the compulsion to regularly involve your phone throughout your daily routine can be so powerful that sometimes users imagine their phone going off in some manner. I can certainly attest to this as even in the process of writing this article, I routinely find myself checking my phone with my motivation being more ‘just in case I missed something’ rather than the supposed norm of engaging with it only when it actually rings or vibrates. Another study, ‘Smartphones are distracting us even when we aren’t looking at them‘, carried out by Max Nisen of, demonstrates that the ‘itch you feel to reach for your pocket every time a phone buzzes or chirps is very real-and very damaging to our ability to pay attention to what we should be doing’.


Better off in the good 'old' Nokia days? by Jacob Bøtter
Better off in the good ‘old’ Nokia days? Photo credit: Flickr


The Circular has found through research for this article that the only definitively effective way of avoiding your phone distracting you is to completely turn it off. It is just too much of an in-built core part of our modern lives that we underestimate the extent of its influence or hold over us. It may sound obvious but it really does make a huge impact. For instance, I would have considered myself quite moderately attached to my phone prior to looking into it. This was due to my minimal online presence in that I don’t have a Twitter or Instagram account, very rarely post on Facebook and generally pride myself in not really knowing about or understanding the hype surrounding the newest viral sensation (just what is so funny about the ‘Damn Daniel‘ video by the way?). But when I review what these studies say, I do find myself nodding along in agreement at the ideas of feeling compelled to check online outlets several times an hour and even falling victim to the phantom notification where I am for a second, certain my phone has gone off. I will end with somewhat of an admittedly lame rallying cry, if you do feel like a bit of a slave to your phone sometimes and that it prevents you from achieving as much as you’d like to during your day, don’t be afraid to turn it off. It’s actually quite a liberating feeling as we have grown accustomed to always being tuned in virtually to all those around us. What starts out as a way to stave off boredom can grow in to, and some people may say we’re guilty of hyperbole here, a bit of an addiction.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.