BUY A GOLDFISH!
BY Angelo Fernando
Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re an easily distracted species. Before you finish reading this sentence, your phone might ping a few times; and before you know it, you’ll be slip sliding down that Venus flytrap called the internet… Some 20 minutes later (or was it 35), you’re still trying to disentangle yourself from its digestive juices (also known as social media).
There’s a word for this – ‘technoference.’ It’s one of those urban dictionary words that smacks us in the forehead but eventually creeps into our vocabulary – like ‘dweeb,’ ‘fudgel’ and ‘thunking.’
Everyone you know (including me) is pulling it and checking to see if you stopped to Google those dorky words in the previous sentence.
So what’s technoference, you ask?
Have you ever engaged in a conversation with a teenager only to have her stop you mid-sentence and pull out a smartphone to fact check something?
And when you returned to the conversation (lucky you!), were you wading into new topics that were smuggled into the discussion?
My daughter spotted a draft copy of this article on my desk and interrupted me to ask if I was referring to her. I dodged the question. Despite belonging to the ‘look-up generation,’ she’s quite good at staying on topic.
Now where were we…?
Oh yes, I was about to allude to Wikipedia. But let’s stick to Twitter.
Technoference could begin with a 10 minute dive into someone’s stream of consciousness on Twitter (why @RealDonaldTrump comes to mind, beats me). On any given day that the leader of the free world insults someone, the six cylinder technoference meme machine revs up like a pack of Harley Davidsons racing past a funeral procession.
You can’t help but stare at the spectacle and before you know it, you’re drowning in memes, animated gifs and hashtags. It leads to a medical condition known as ‘retinal hyperlink fatigue.’ Look it up! On second thoughts, don’t!
Our waning powers of attention are allowing us to slip into a new dark age. And I’m not being melodramatic.
I’m citing one of the sombre warnings by Maggie Jackson who wrote a book titled (what else?) ‘Distracted.’ She explains how “the addictive allure of multitasking people and things, our near religious allegiance to a constant state of motion” is shattering old conceptions of space, time and place.
Consider distracted driving – Exhibit A in multitasking…
Some days, although I’m philosophically against self-driving cars, I think they are God’s gift to those who are talking on a hands free device while sipping coffee and making a left turn. In other words, people like me.
By the way, did you take the bait and Google retinal hyperlink fatigue?
Just checking! I made that one up as a sneaky distraction to see how you’ve been resisting technoference up to now.
I found that distracted knowledge workers spend more than two hours dealing with interruptions. A study to measure the ‘disruption cost of interruptions’ found that workers in an office compensated for being disrupted not by slowing down but working faster. The authors seem to gloat over that titbit but they concede that this comes at price in terms of stress and frustration.
In another study, Microsoft found that since the year 2000, our average attention span took a dive from 12 to eight seconds. If that’s not alarming, consider this: remember how it used to be said that some of us have the attention span of a gnat?
Well, the folks who measure these things now have data that reveals we have attention spans that are shorter than those of goldfish. Goldfish!
The Microsoft study found that ‘heavy multi-screeners’ – those who use other devices while watching TV – are easily distracted. Duh! These are the people who find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli, the study reports. I’m guessing they’re the ones who are switching between cat videos, Snapstreaks and goldfish while watching a CNN panel of angry pundits.
This study was conducted by the advertising division of Microsoft Canada, which may or may not sound a little sketchy.
It agrees that while this is troubling, there could be an upside for marketers: “It means that even though we have shorter attention spans, people are becoming better at processing things and encoding them to memory.”
As for me, having pored over all these reports, I’m in the Maggie Jackson camp. I also plan to fight retinal hyperlink fatigue (which doesn’t have a Wikipediaentry as yet) by investing in something that deserves more respect…
I’m looking up goldfish.