The Distraction Addiction | Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Summary of: The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul
By: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang


In ‘The Distraction Addiction,’ Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explores the impact of technology on our lives, examining the potential for addiction and the loss of mindfulness it may cause. With the average American spending around 60 hours online per month, the author delves into how this new age of connectivity comes at a price. The book summary outlines the difference between ‘flow’ – the positive experience of being engrossed in a task – and addiction, which creates dependency on digital devices. It also brings attention to the pitfalls of switch-tasking, the impact of Zenware on productivity, and the importance of mindfulness and meditation in countering problems caused by technology.

The Perils of Internet Addiction

The internet has become an integral part of our daily routine, with an average American spending about 60 hours a month online. However, this dependence can quickly turn to addiction, as exemplified by studies from the University of Maryland and a Boston hospital. Participants described symptoms reminiscent of substance addiction, such as intense cravings and phantom cell phone vibrations. Yet, technology can facilitate a relationship of flow, where we use it as an extension of ourselves for a specific task. The author’s experience with touch-typing for over a decade illustrates this. By using technology thoughtfully, we can avoid the perils of internet addiction and harness its potential.

The Myth of Multitasking

Doing many things at once makes us less efficient and more likely to make mistakes. Zenware tools enable anyone to focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions.

Have you ever tried switching back and forth between tasks, only to find that it takes three times as long to complete? If so, then you’re familiar with “switch-tasking” – the unproductive and inefficient way of doing things instead of actually multitasking.

Monica Smith, a professor at UCLA, defines true multitasking as the ability to undertake multiple activities with a common aim in mind, such as hosting a dinner party. To pull off a successful dinner, one needs to keep track of multiple things at once, such as ingredients, locations, preparations, and timing.

However, switch-tasking is the opposite of true multitasking. It involves multiple activities with no common focus. For instance, we are all guilty of toggling between multiple tabs or applications on our computer, which is a classic example of switch-tasking.

The inefficiency and difficulties of switch-tasking are best illustrated by a three-step experiment carried out by Megan Jones, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. The author was asked to count from one to ten and recite the alphabet from A to J, both of which were completed in one-and-a-half seconds. But when Jones asked the author to alternate between numbers and letters, “One, A, Two, B,” he struggled. The random switching between the two series made everything much more complicated, taking three times as long to complete.

So, what’s the solution? One solution is to use Zenware tools – programs that block out distractions and facilitate efficient multitasking. WriteRoom, developed by Jesse Grosjean, is one excellent example of how Zenware tools can boost productivity.

WriteRoom removes all the buttons for adjusting things like margins, line spacing, and fonts, providing the user with a full-screen page without any formatting options. This tool enables individuals to focus on what’s most important instead of being distracted by unnecessary features.

In conclusion, multitasking is a myth, and switch-tasking only makes us less efficient and more likely to make errors. By using Zenware tools like WriteRoom, anyone can learn to focus on the task at hand, avoid distractions, and achieve their goals more efficiently.

Mindfulness and its Relevance in the Battle against Distraction

In the quest to conquer distractions brought about by various technological advancements, there has been a growing interest in the practice of mindfulness, especially through mediation. Several Buddhists, including Bhikkhu Samahita, believe that a lack of mindfulness, and not technology, is the leading cause of distraction. By attuning oneself to their thoughts and actions in the present moment, Bhikkhu and others have been able to utilize technology without becoming overly dependent. Furthermore, distraction is seen as a reflection of an inner state rather than an external force. A study conducted by Richard Davidson, which involved electroencephalogram monitors, revealed that years of disciplined meditation generated greater activity in the brain’s parts responsible for memory, compassion and attention. Thus, mindfulness can get one into a calm, focused state, which is essential in combating distractions.

The Humanization of Computers

Reeves and Nass argue that computers are so integrated into our lives that we are treating them like humans. The idea is supported by an experiment, which indicates that we are more connected to computers when they are more interactive and responsive. This connection could be utilized to help us achieve our goals. Fox also designed an experiment that involved personalized avatars to motivate people to pursue their long-term goals. The study revealed that participants who interacted with personalized avatars worked out a full hour longer than those who interacted with their generic counterparts. Hence, computers do not only act as distractions but can also motivate us to overcome obstacles and visualize the results of our efforts.

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