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MENAFN - Arab News - 22/01/2014

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(MENAFN -Arab News) We are beginning to see how the Web and smartphones have irreversibly changed the way we communicate, the way we do business, and even the way we live. Digital technologies are intertwined in our everyday lives whether we like it or not. Computers are no longer a part of our daily life, they consume every minute of our lives.

However if “digital life can be great, it also has a price. Keeping up with everything that everyone’s sharing can become overwhelming, not just the sheer volume of material, but also the obligation to stay on top of it,” wrote Kim Pang.

Recent surveys and field studies have shown that a majority of workers only have three to 15 minutes of uninterrupted working time in a day and they spend at least an hour a day on their phone. Why do we always feel the urge to respond although we know that it interferes with our work? The fact is that we live in a world where everyone looks perpetually busy. Being overloaded with work is the new norm. We feel that multitasking makes us work more when in reality it is often counterproductive.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a former Microsoft Research fellow and a senior consultant at Strategic Business Insights, a Silicon Valley-based think tank has spent the last twenty years studying interactions between people, technology and the worlds they make. He believes that our mind is not just confined to the brain or the body. We should rather think of having an “extended mind” which consists of entwined parts that link brain, senses, body, and objects.

“Today’s information technologies I contend cause us pain not because they’re supplanting our normal cognitive abilities, which have always been flexible and mobile, but because they are often poorly designed and thoughtlessly used; they’re like limbs that we can’t bring under control.”

Many of us have become addicted to our smartphones, Ipads or laptops. We constantly feel the need to use them. Linda Stone, a former Microsoft and Apple executive came up with the term “continuous partial attention”, which describes the way a person divides his focus among several devices so that he ends up never giving any single one his complete attention. She also noticed that most people hold their breath when they check their e-mail. This habit reflects the anxiety we feel as we check our new messages.

Similarly, after researchers asked college students to stay offline and refrain from using any electronic devices for twenty-four hours, one American student said that he needed his electronic fix and described going offline literally “as some sort of withdrawal sensation.” Another Chinese student claimed that after twenty-two hours without any media, “she was almost freaking out.” Meanwhile, a British student said she “craved for her phone, and routinely checked her pockets for it every five minutes.”

The fact is that more and more people are behaving this way. When someone is left for only a few seconds alone, he or she immediately checks his/her phone.

Incidentally, I noticed that a lot of men who seem busy with their phones are actually playing games!

For centuries, traveling was a means to meet interesting people. That time is almost over. Nobody has time for anybody!

Whether in the waiting lounge, on the plane or in the train, most people are fiddling with their phones and clearly do not want to be disturbed. If you watch people in the streets, you will also find that the majority are talking on the phone. Even when friends meet, you will rarely find everyone present not using a phone. Using a phone has become an automatism, something we do without even thinking about it.

The author makes some interesting points concerning the difference between print and digital media, arguing that each has its own characteristics and supports different styles of reading.

“Nearly everyone I interviewed had a dedicated e-reader, but no one saw the device as a replacement for books, rather, the device was used for lower-intensity reading. What’s interesting is that this is not a distinction that e-reader manufacturers make, it’s something that serious, thoughtful readers discovers for themselves…Computers are great for writing quickly, while printed documents are good for seeing structure, measuring how well an argument flows, and getting a sense of a piece’s overall balance and tone,” asserted Kim Pang.

Elizabeth Dunn an anthropologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder explained, “If I can skim it, I read it on Kindle, but if I really have to know it, I need a printed page. Work I have to really concentrate on and know, anything I have to annotate, and poetry are all impossible to read on Kindle. I cannot retain enough of what I read on Kindle to use it for things I will have to work to master.”

Regarding social media the author believes that one should live first and tweet later. One should always ask oneself if it matters enough to share. More often than not, one realizes that friends don’t need to know everything we do. On the other hand, life is continuously changing and it is impossible to keep up with everything and everybody. There is constantly something new coming up, and what is new at this precise second is old, a second later.

The author has not questioned how online life is affecting the young; the answer to this burning question is the subject of InRealLife, a documentary by filmmaker Beeban Kidron who looks with an inquisitive eye at the digital world that adults have created for children to inhabit. This topic has also been tackled by Michel Serres in his latest book “Petite Poucette”, which has yet to be translated from French into English. Professor at Stanford University and a member of the French Academy, the French born author asserted that the world has changed so much that young people have to reinvent everything.

However, Kidron justly remarked that someone else is creating a template for them. Companies like Google and Facebook are imposing their realities on the inner lives of the young.

The Distraction Addiction is a wise and deep book. The author gives us some important information on how to avoid being a smartphone addict and how to reclaim a few hours from the digital crush. But the problem is that the Internet has invaded our lives and woven us into this intricate Web. We really do need to look at the Internet seriously and decide which bits we want and which bits we do not need. And in the end, we are left with the big question: What kind of a world do we really want to live in?



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