Digital distraction

OK, I've lampooned the 'passing on wrong information' objection to the use of social media at work. I've readily agreed – and still do – that our informal channels provide much more helpful and useful information at work than the formals.  I''ve nodded my head at the statement 'if people are going to be distracted they'll be distracted whether you provide social media or not'.

Yet I notice that when I come across a link saying 'Digital Distractions Are Expanding at the Workplace'  in the midst of a collection of links promoting social media for learning and information-sharing, I leap to click it. When I got to the article I felt a wave of recognition. It's not that distraction was invented by Twitter or anything, it's just that as we have become more digitally connected the space for focus and concentration has diminished and the more we add, the harder it gets.

When I was at the Learning and Skills Group, Don gave out the Twitter hashtag for the conference with the fire instructions. I remember thinking ' the last thing I want to do if I'm enjoying a presentation or intrigued by the argument, or better still, challenged by it – is to sit scrolling through my phone reading what other people are saying about it in real time. I want to focus.  The time I'd see myself wanting to dip into the Twittersphere would be if I were bored. I felt at times that to express such a view would mark me down as somewhere between a Luddite and a dinosaur. I have the same feeling on LSG or eLearning Network webinars where I've taken to shutting down the chat room (except when I need to ask, painfully regularly 'Has the audio gone off or is it just me?').  Because I cannot concentrate on two things at once and I cannot concentrate well on one thing if I'm drawn to dip in and out of another.

So when I read in the article I've linked to:

  • 68% of respondents reported that their employers have implemented policies or technologies to minimize distractions, while 73% of end users have adopted self-imposed techniques to help maintain focus.
  • The #1 corporate strategy used to discourage digital diversion is blocking access to public social networks such as Facebook and/or other non-business websites (48%).

… I feel recognition and validation from the first and bitter disappointment about the second. Because this is precisely the sort of restriction I normally argue against.But I can see that it's not just humbug, it's a real issue.

For myself it boils down to the fact that  I revel in the use of "pull" resources and I make a lot of effort to protect myself from "push" .   So like many others I switch off email notifications, and I keep other stuff like Twitter and Facebook at arm's length. I go into Facebook frequently but Twitter I only look at every few days. And it overwhelms me when I do.

In conclusion I'd say that social learning – or rather the kind of self-directed learning that SoMe enables so wonderfully – is now seen to demand not only new skills but new levels of self-discipline.  With them, we can make the most of what it offers, but without them, and without even recognising that there's a problem, we'll suffer.


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