Digital Distraction


No one would dispute that reviewing hundreds of unwanted emails is a total waste of time. But that is just one issue; we are assaulted by countless messages and alerts. Even when we want to concentrate on our work, it is almost impossible to focus. And when we are tempted to put off doing what is important, YouTube and other diversions are only a click away.

In fact, "Digital Overload" may be the most significant problem facing our workplace today. First written about by our colleague Bill Jensen years ago, this culture of non-stop, 24/7 connection costs us dearly. We are constantly busy, producing little of value.

Digital Distraction wastes almost a Trillion Dollars in the US Alone

Recently, The Information Overload Research Group, a nonprofit consortium of business professionals, researchers, and consultants, reported "knowledge workers in the United States waste 25 percent of their time dealing with their huge and growing data streams, costing the economy $997 billion annually."

Digital Distraction is Increasing

Back in 2008, Larry Rosen and his colleagues conducted a study, which they then replicated last year. They surveyed people in three age groups---Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Net Generation (born in the 1980s). They gave participants a list of 66 pairs of activities to discover which ones they typically did in tandem.

"Questions included, 'Do you go online and text simultaneously?' and 'Do you e-mail and eat at the same time?' In 2008, Baby Boomers responded 'Yes' for 59 percent of the pairs, on average; the numbers were 67 percent for Gen Xers, and 75 percent for the youngest generation. In 2014 the percentages were higher---67 percent for Baby Boomers, 70 percent for Gen X, and 81 percent for the Net Gen. Meanwhile, members of the iGeneration (born in the 1990s), whom [the researchers] added to the second study, were engaging in an astonishing 87 percent of the paired activities.  .  ."

What's Going On

We have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), FOBO (Fear of Being Offline), and nomophobia (fear of being out of mobile phone contact)---all forms of anxiety related to obsession or compulsion. We are all constantly checking our laptops, tablets, and phones because we worry about receiving new information later than others, responding too slowly to a text or an e-mail, or being late to comment on or like a social media post.

"A recent survey by Tata Communications showed that people in the US, Europe, and Asia spend an average of more than five hours a day on the internet, and 64 percent worry when they don’t have access."

No End in Sight

Until we can come up with new systems and processes to cope with Digital Distraction, it will continue to take an increasingly expensive toll on our productivity. With this enormous cost, it would seem to make sense to invest resources to address the issue.

Special thanks to Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel whose articles in the June 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review raised our consciousness to this important topic.


From "The Herman Trend Alert," by Joyce Gioia, Strategic Business Futurist.


Joyce Gioia is a Strategic Business Futurist concentrating on workforce and workplace trends. Joyce is President and CEO of The Herman Group, a firm serving a wide range corporate, trade association and governmental clients on an international basis.

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