Have You Been Paying Attention?

In today’s digital age, there is no doubt that the usage of smartphones and other internet-enabled devices is becoming a significant source for distraction and disconnect. Last week, I touched on the notion of how we are constantly sharing our attention in class between our tech and our teacher, and quoted Chakraborty (2006), in saying that “Mobile phones have an intrinsic social impact by the way the technologies emphasize portability and constant communication”.

However this phenomenon is most certainly not limited to the classroom, with an ever-growing concern for our attention, amidst an ever-growing presence of addictive technology. But to what extent should this be a concern to us? It seems as though my generation in particular are easily accepting of this notion. I will be the first to admit that social media is personally the single biggest source for procrastination and a significant barrier to effective and productive study. According to Hadar et. al., “given the sheer frequency and duration of daily smartphone usage it is conceivable that changes in cognition, behavior and psychological states may be observed in users” (2017).

I first wanted to consider why we are becoming so attached to these devices. After an in class discussion, I observed that in some cases, people reported that they were afraid of “missing out”, or felt as through they had a social obligation to both be available constantly, and to respond to notifications within a short space of time.

However I personally feel as though social media addiction is perhaps something done out of habit. There are so many times that I find myself absent-mindedly scrolling through a newsfeed, without much interest or care for the media which is before me. In the research conducted by Hadar et. al, it was discovered that heavy phone or media usage “was found to be associated with impaired attention, reduced numerical processing capacity, changes in social cognition, and reduced right prefrontal cortex (rPFC) excitability”.

To try and test this idea in an everyday situation, I designed a small experiment that aimed to investigate just how much people were paying attention amidst the presence of media. Please note, within the time limitations I only carried out this experiment twice, however to get more reliable results I would definitely repeat this experiment numerous times, in numerous contexts.

There are already some fantastic awareness tests out there, two of my favorites are below:

I wear glasses on a daily basis, and have two different pairs that I change up from time to time. The glasses are completely different in appearance, one pair has a dark square frame and the others are more rounded and completely clear.

In my experiment, I had a conversation with two people and at an appropriate time, when I noticed their attention was not completely present, swiftly swapped my clear framed glasses with my dark frames, and then resumed the conversation.

In the first instance, my partner was sitting with me at the bus stop, and was looking at his phone. I had been wearing my clear glasses for the entire morning, and changed to the dark ones. We resumed our conversation and after about 10 minutes I asked him if he had noticed the change. He hadn’t at all.

In the second instance I was having coffee with a friend. In this case we did not have any media present but we were in a busy university setting with a lot of activity going on around us. Again, after about 15 minutes I asked her if she had noticed the change, and surprisingly, she had not. Although it is interesting to note that she recalled thinking that my glasses were really nice and hadn’t seen me wearing them for a while, yet did not notice that they were different to the ones we stared the conversation with.



Hadar A, Hadas I, Lazarovits A, Alyagon U, Eliraz D, Zangen A (2017) Answering the missed call: Initial exploration of cognitive and electrophysiological changes associated with smartphone use and abuse. PLoS ONE 12(7): e0180094. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180094 Editor: Aviv M. W

Featured Image: “Untitled” by Ken Walton, licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Published by susiealdermann

Fifth Year Bachelor of Communications and Media/ Bachelor of International Studies (Dean's Scholar) student

One thought on “Have You Been Paying Attention?

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