Breaking news. That rectangular device glued to your hand for 5-6 hours a day (that’s 2008 hours in a year) – is actually wrecking your attention span. Not only this, it’s actually changing the way your brain functions/operates. There is a plethora of new studies demonstrating that younger people are able to process information at a faster rate than their older counterparts, so they can move from one task to another more seamlessly. It’s reported that individuals that grew up in this new era may actually be conditioned from the get-go for this constant switching. On the contrary, this research is also depicting the fact that older individuals may be mentally stronger due to their “super ability” to focus & learn thanks to their more long-lasting attention span – something we can’t take for granted now.
What’s the main issue? The smartphone. Americans now are in the habit to touch their phones more than 2500 times a day “just in case they miss a notification”. This is actually linked to the vicious dopamine reward cycle – where every time we check our notification, we essentially give in and feed ourselves dopamine. Unfortunately, this has a short-lived effect and we’ve just left craving more. Checking phones has so much so become the new norm – more than 40% of Americans confirmed they look at their phones first thing in the morning. 50% reported they check them in the middle of the night if they get up – are our phones our safe base now? It seems it’s what we revert to in any situation, and unfortunately, there are a variety of negative consequences that result from this prolonged EMF exposure that we’ve explored in detail.
As we’ve discussed, EMF has an impact on the proper function of our brains, which doesn’t help when we’re using them, normally very close to our body, almost constantly. The perpetual use of our electronics impacts our neurotransmitters, impeding on the most basic of our day-to-day processes and optimal organ function. Check out the full deep dive on the brain and EMF here.
Beyond phones, digital screens seem to inevitably be everywhere we go. They’re in our living spaces (TVs), in our workspaces (laptops), in transportation (trains/cars/elevators), they’re in grocery stores, waiting rooms, malls – and worst of all, they’re in our possession every day. William Klemm, senior prof of neuroscience at Texas A&M University, reported that “The brain starts to learn how to switch rapidly from one task to another, which results in a habit. But this habit conflicts with our focused attentiveness.” There was a study that concluded that people in a room with a TV & a computer switched their attention back and forth every 14 seconds. What does this tell us? That we’re constantly distracted – that we’re unable to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes because we’re so used to moving from thing to thing on our phones. This is especially true for short-form media (TikTok, Instagram Reels) which are now able to draw your attention for longer because you want to keep coming back (the dopamine effect & vicious reward feedback loop).
It’s easy to say “I’m just going to unplug” – but as this distraction is the norm now, we begin to feel a void the minute it’s gone, which is why many of us now feel the need to check our phones even when we doing mundane tasks like sitting at a restaurant or waiting. A study in Chicago demonstrated how just the presence of smartphones, even when they aren’t being used can actually play with our cognitive abilities. During a study at Hokkaido University in Japan, when participants had to work on a task on a computer, those with a phone close by performed at a slower pace than those that had a notebook instead. In the same way, just one notification drastically weakens your focus on any task – because it’s an interruption to the flow/momentum you just built up. According to researchers at Florida State Universities, despite notifications being singular or short, they can trigger irrelevant thoughts and a ton of daydreaming. An APA survey reported that this incapacity to unplug also resulted in the creation of anxiety. People that constantly have to check their devices had higher stress and anxiety levels than those who don’t do it as often. And as a domino effect, stress strongly affects our ability to concentrate.
So in a way, even though the older generation lived a less technologically advanced lifestyle, they actually are better equipped for thinking involving complex thought processes/decision making – and this is big news, but they can actually stand being bored – something we as a new generation, have no tolerance for.
Being able to thrive in a distracted future will be a key skill – the ability to perform deep work and focus without interruptions on a demanding task will not only become an important job skill, but also a life skill. People that are less distracted are statistically happier and less stressed/anxious than someone who constantly feels the need to check their notifications. The way out? There’s no one answer, but you can definitely train your brain to work for longer periods of time – which again will take time and focus, but is possible if you’re patient and dedicated!