In the world today, people are constantly surrounded by distractions from technology. People use their smartphones and mobile devices at dinners and work. Some people have multiple tabs open on their devices and constantly receive notifications while they are using them. Some people also choose to use their devices while they drive, placing others in danger. While technological advances have allowed people to be more productive and to communicate with others more easily, they also distract people in multiple ways, leading to negative mental and physical consequences.

Negative consequences of distractions

Technological distractions may not seem to be important. However, distractions can come with significant costs. Having nearly unlimited access to entertainment and information can be too much for most people to withstand. A few distractions on a given day can be a problem.

Research demonstrates that when your attention is distracted away from a primary task, it can take you as much as 23 minutes to fully return your attention to the task following the distraction. This means that every time that you are distracted at your job by a notification, social media, or an article, you could be losing nearly 30 minutes when your focus is reduced.

Distractions can be far more damaging than simply causing lost productivity and attention at school or work. For example, distracted driving has become a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents, including pedestrian accidents. These accidents have resulted in thousands of injuries and fatalities. As we have previously noted, the Governors Highway Safety Association found that pedestrian fatalities increased by 22% from 2014 to 2016. Part of the reason for this increase in pedestrian deaths is distracted driving.

Mobile devices such as smartphones have led to more ways for people to become distracted while they drive. In 2018, 4,637 people were killed by distracted drivers in the U.S.

As we have previously discussed, California has the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation followed by Texas, Florida, and New York. Los Angeles is especially dangerous for pedestrians with its congested streets. When drivers in Los Angeles are distracted by their smartphones and other electronic devices, they may fail to see pedestrians who are crossing the streets in crosswalks and strike them.

Distractions from technology also subtly impact how you solve problems, adapt, and think. For instance, you might check an online resource to read about something that you see on television. When you do this, it takes your attention away from the program while also reducing your brain’s ability to rely on its memory. Some research has indicated that these types of searches to find answers to questions can reduce your ability to remember things. The average attention span for humans has also decreased over the past two decades. On average, the attention span lasts just eight seconds today. Distractions have now been able to take over the lives of average Americans. 

Designed to distract

Mobile devices, smartphones, and other types of technology have been designed to distract people by tech companies. Tech companies design their devices to distract people for several reasons.

Technological distractions grab your attention. This means that you might pay more money for a product or might be exposed to additional advertising. This means that the company that designed and manufactured the distracting device will earn more money.

Technological distractions also allow people to temporarily escape and to reduce the stress that they fee. This can lead people to continue coming back to the technological distraction for a boost.

Distracting devices and apps also help tech companies to beat out their competition. If an app is more distracting than a competitor’s app, the user’s attention can be diverted away from the other app. Sending more content and notifications provides a method to distract people to improve a company’s success and to encourage additional users to use the app.

Companies are not required to inform consumers about their notification settings or to take steps to prevent dangerous distractions from occurring. While some companies have taken proactive measures to prevent dangerous distractions, they have done so by choice. Companies have an incentive to make the technology that they sell distracting without any restrictions by the law.

Eliminating distractions

Resisting distractions is very difficult for the most self-disciplined people because of how they have been engineered to capture our attention. To eliminate distractions, you must make conscious choices to turn off your notifications, delete apps, and keep your smartphone turned off and stored away when you are behind the wheel.

We do not have a way to manually override the actions of our brains. While you can use meditation to gain more control of your attention, most people switch their attention from object to object as each new thing appears. Without consciously deciding to turn devices off or to control your attention deliberately, distractions will continue to grab your attention. 

Working to achieve a distraction-free future

While most people are distracted by technology, including when they drive, society can work towards achieving a distraction-free future. Enforcement of regulations and laws covering distracted driving can help. Educational campaigns may also have an impact and help to save lives. The development of automation for self-driving cars may further reduce the impact of distractions. Companies and lawmakers must work together to create better and more ethical standards for notifications and potential limits on when consumers can consume content. With education, people may understand the risks involved with technological distractions and choose to avoid using their devices while they are driving. If these types of changes occur, it is possible for us to reach a future that is free from dangerous distractions.