How much time do you waste online?

The real problem is darting from task to task, tool to tool, without completing anything.

If someone told you that you spent 10 hours per day on social media you might feel rather surprised. But those are the figures cited in “The Distracted Mind,” a new book by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen, published by MIT Press. College students described as “low smartphone users” spent 3 hours per day on their phones, while those designated “heavy smartphone users” spent as many as 10 hours per day on their phones–figures that are almost incredible.

How do they (/we) find time to do anything else? The answer is that we multitask, switching frenetically from one activity to another, checking email and IMs in between. As Gazzaley and Rosen point out, this creates feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. In short, using social media and online technology is not very good for you.

Image credit: MIT Press,

Image credit: MIT Press,

‘The Distracted Mind” has attracted a lot of attention in the US and it’s easy to see why. Social media and a constant rotation of new technologies have been ubiquitous for a few years now, but without a developing sense that we know how to manage them. When I worked in an office, instant replies to email were de rigeur (a habit G and D show truly prevents work from getting done). Often these days, when I check my phone, I have a queasy, slippery sensation in my mind, perhaps the equivalent of how your stomach might feel after drinking a McDonald’s chocolate milkshake. (They used to be my favourite.) Slightly unpleasant, enough to suggest that looking at my phone 8 or 9 times an hour probably isn’t very healthy, but not bad enough to stop me from doing again. This book articulates what the source of that sensation might be and includes findings from multiple psychological experiments on the subject.

I’m keen to get to the “solutions” chapter but already I’ve begun to modify my tech use and am working on curtailing my obsessive phone-scanning habit. There is perhaps an irony in writing about this online, but I don’t think the authors will argue for total abstention from tech-driven activities; just a more controlled and thoughtful approach.

I’ll keep you posted!