How many times a day do you check your email? Have you ever stopped mid conversation while speaking with someone to check and see who just sent you a message on your Blackberry? Not only is this rude, but it may be making you stupid. The average person checks their email 5-6 times a day. Opinion polls have indicated that many Blackberry users cannot go more than 5 minutes without checking their email. The 2006 New World College dictionary word of the year, “Crackberry“, rightfully deserves it's name.
Today'sworld is filled with rapid fire stimulation. Anywhere we go we can instantly be reached via text, email or phone. We are always on call and everything is immediate. We now live in an age where having to wait for something is the worst thing imaginable. Our attention spans have grown so short and we have grown so impatient that most of us have lost our ability to focus on a single task and to do it properly. This addiction to immediate access to email and other information is actually causing us to lose our ability to focus. In 2005, a psychiatrist at King's College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones, and the third was stoned on marijuana.
Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hand, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points. In order to remain fully focused on a task, most of us need undivided attention in order to get into the rhythm and flow of whatever it is we are doing. Take sleep for an example. If you were to interrupted every 20 minutes during the course of a night's sleep to answer a phone call or to check an email, would you consider that a productive night's sleep? How do you think these constant interruptions are affecting your work life? Worse yet, how is it affecting your family life? Are you the parent at your kid's soccer game with your Blackberry in hand the entire game?
Smart phones and their cry for constant attention may be hurting our ability to communicate. Really communicate. When we write a message using our phones we tend to keep it short and sweet. We write just enough to get our message across, no need for silly things like proper spelling or using complete sentences. We are too busy to spend any more than a few seconds responding to someone's request. The problem with doing this on a consistent basis is twofold. One, we are losing our ability to focus. When using a smartphone to communicate, we tend to put little thought into what we are writing. We tend to say things we otherwise would not say in person. When we write in erratic, fragmented language, we eventually begin to think like that too. Sloppy writing will eventually lead to sloppy thinking. Secondly, we think that being busy equates to being productive. Doing one thing well is better than doing three things poorly. If you try and juggle too many balls, eventually you will start to drop them.
Remember, your smart phone does not have to be constantly buzzing in order to feel important. If you selectively pick times during the day when you will check email it will free you to direct your attention to the matter at hand. Make it known to everyone to only text you if it's important, otherwise email you and you will check it later. When you are having a conversation with someone and your phone starts buzzing, it's OK to check it AFTER the conversation, not in the middle of it (unless your wife is about to give birth). Good manners and courtesy are still sought after traits in people. If you are working on an important project, shut your phone and email off and give it your undivided attention. You will produce better quality work. And lastly, when you are with your family, holster your smartphone and enjoy your time with the people who really matter.