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Losing focus: Why tech is getting in the way of work

08 May 2015 [15:50] - TODAY.AZ

Before you read this article I want to ask you a simple question.

Have I got your full attention?

Probably not. And that's especially true if you are looking at this in your office.

Finding focus is a something almost everyone has to deal with. And research figures in the US show that in the workplace we are having more and more trouble keeping both internal and external stimuli at bay.

Blame it on technology.

Status update

Professor Gloria Mark of the Department of Informatics at the University of California says email, social media, notifications and countless other digital distractions are eroding our ability to concentrate on individual tasks in the 21st Century.

"Back in 2004 we followed American information workers around with stopwatches and timed every action," she says.

"They switched their attention every three minutes on average. In 2012, we found that the time spent on one computer screen before switching to another computer screen was one minute 15 seconds.

"By the summer of 2014 it was an average of 59.5 seconds."

Academics and scientists are becoming increasingly interested in the effects of technology in the work place.

This is perhaps because there is relatively little research available about the impact of websites like Twitter and Facebook, or games like Candy Crush, that seem to be deliberately aimed at keeping us constantly engaged, to the detriment of work.

Cultural anthropologists, such as associate professor Natasha Dow Schull from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), point to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who several decades ago crystallised the idea of "flow".

Prof Schull says there are several characteristics of a focused state that Mr Csikszentmihalyi identified.

"It's to do with having a sense of control. It's about having a choice to be drawn into something compelling, and it doesn't exceed your capabilities or leave you feeling confused and frustrated that you don't know how to do it," she says.

"To get 'flow' your activity needs to match your ability. But I have found in my own work to think about focus as not being all on you and to recognise it can be affected by your environment."

Go with it

"Flow" is the basis of a streaming audio service called [email protected]

It aims to blend into the background so successfully the listener is unaware of its presence, whilst keeping their mind in a prolonged flow state.

Founded by Will Henshall, a member of the original Londonbeat dance group that had a hit with I've Been Thinking About You, the service remixes music of various types and speeds.

Most tracks start off as a basic instrumental, but then are completely re-engineered.

"We discovered it's not only vocals but instruments that sound like a human voice that are also pretty distracting," he says.

"A good example would be a cello. Also, no saxophones, bassoons, synth sounds and no lead electric guitars. About forty other elements are tagged because they affect the non-conscious mind."

That's why listening to your favourite tracks on Spotify or Pandora might have the opposite effect.

If you love a tune, you'll recognise it and get distracted by it, even momentarily. And that's all it takes to lose concentration.

/By BBC/


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