The folks at YouGov, a market research firm, and the app LISTEN recently conducted a study about phone usage in the work place—the results of which aren’t too surprising but are a bit concerning.
They surveyed more than 1,200 adults and found that professionals are overwhelmingly splitting their time between their work duties and their screens. The study found that social media and keeping in touch with friends via messaging, Snapchat, etc. is the biggest distraction by far, taking 68 percent of Americans’ focuses off their jobs several times every day.
By field, consultants ranked as the top distracted profession with 76 percent admitting to using their phones for such activities five times per day at the least. Those who work in the IT industry came in second with a guilty 59 percent. Teachers and those who work in finance answered with rates of 23 and 27 percent respectively.
For many, this results in nothing more than a subpar work performance and maybe some late assignments. In certain fields, however, distraction can be dangerous.
“If you’re driving, if you’re performing a medical procedure or need to pay attention to your patient, it [your attention] is going to be impacted because you cannot multi-task,” Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addition, told the Observer.
Social media and texting also distracts doctors, but the study found an even bigger distraction for those in the profession: games. Forty-three percent of those in the medical field admitted they’re busy playing mobile phone games while they’re on the clock. We shared the study’s findings with Dr. Greenfield—who is also an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at The University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine—and he confirmed he’s found similar usage rates across most fields in his own research. He also explained why we can’t seem to take our eyes off our phones, especially when it comes to games.
“The power of the Internet supersedes any frontal lobe judgement,” he said. “When dopamine is activated in the brain, which is what happens with gaming, it overrides your judgement.”
There’s also significant time distortion, which leaves people unaware of how long they’ve been playing. For this reason, Dr. Greenfield said he bets most of these people aren’t even fully conscious of how often and why they’re playing.
“All of these technologies that access the Internet are extremely psychoactive. They change our mood and consciousness like a drug. I call them a digital drug. They change our neurobiology and, in some cases, our neurophysiology,” he added.
He also explained that our brains are physically incapable of multitasking, and that no matter how good your friend says he is at it, he’s not. If he’s watching one thing and reading another, he’s hardly retaining any of either.
For this reason, “digital drugs” can undoubtedly be seen as hazards in some work places where health, wellness and even lives are on the line. Although it’s unlikely doctors are playing Candy Crush in the actual operating room, playing right before going in (or even before a check-up) might hinder focus. In recent news, there have been stories of a school bus driver and several train drivers that caused fatal accidents because they were distracted by mobile games and texting while driving.
If we can’t stop even when using our phones is not only unacceptable, but even unsafe, are we an addicted society?
While we throw around the word “addicted” a lot when it comes to smartphones and social media, only 5 to 6 percent of people consumed by technology actually meet the medical criteria for addiction, according to Dr. Greenfield. The vast majority of the rest of us, however, are certainly overusing and/or abusing.
“People joke about it a lot, but I think there’s a certain lack of appreciation for realizing how serious it is,” he said. “I think there’s a tipping point now though, where we’re realizing this is a far bigger issue than we imagined.”