Written by Alberto Angelucci, Camilla Citterio and Maria Luisa Zucchini Solimei
It’s 3 p.m, you have an important test tomorrow. You take out your books, sit at your desk and then mentally prepare yourself for your study session. This afternoon is going to be super productive. But suddenly it arrives. A familiar noise. Is it a text? A Facebook notification? Or has someone liked your latest photo on Instagram? You need to know! You stand up, check your phone “for just a second” and all of a sudden it’s 7 p.m.
How many times has this happened to you? As 21st century students this is our struggling routine. Sometimes it is really hard to stay focused on our school work because modern technology offers a lot of distractions. We wanted to investigate this topic further so we asked our friends and classmates to fill in the survey we created.The results showed us that we aren’t alone: they also face the same issues. What we discovered is that 76% of our friends get distracted by their phones the most while they’re studying while 84% of them keep their phone close by, checking it on the average every 30 minutes.
The same response was noticed by Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at the California State University, who observed that 80% of surveyed high school students constantly switch from studying to their social media profiles. In another study by the Kaiser-Family Foundation, one third of students surveyed confessed that while they were doing their homework they were also texting or listening to music. But multitasking isn’t really that effective because the brain cannot do two complex tasks at the same time: in fact each of the actions mentioned above involves the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.
The need to be constantly online comes from the idea of anxiety caused by the fear of missing out (FOMO) or being the last person to hear some news. In fact, according to the questionnaire we made, 75% of the people surveyed check their phone right after waking up while a whopping 93% do so before going to sleep, on average for 30 minutes.
This phenomenon of chronic attachment to our devices has increased as the internet has expanded. In the past five years we have witnessed an exponential growth of the internet and its users. The worldwide population has increased by 10% from 2012 to 2017 while the number of internet users has nearly doubled (+1.7 billion). The same result can be found for social media users: they have risen from 1.5 billion (2012) to the present figure of almost 2.8 billion.
One of the side-effects of this extraordinary expansion of the net is that it is estimated that between 5% and 10% of us are now unable to limit our use and are thus considered addicts. In fact, overuse is reflected in our brains by abnormal patterns of “ white matter” which causes problems when dealing with emotions, taking decisions and generally in terms of self control.
While this situation seems to be slipping out of our hands and it feels that we are being overwhelmed by something we created to relieve us, actually the internet is reacting to
itself. To control time spent online, some tools have been created: there are phone apps or laptop blocks that can improve your productivity by protecting you from the temptation of wasting time surfing the Net. One such example is a smartphone application called Forest. There you can plant a virtual seed and set a timer: if you cannot resist the urge and leave the app to check social medias, your tree will die. This app can improve your sense of responsibility and help you to achieve more goals. Other programs, such as Brain Productivity Timer or AppBlock, are not known by the majority of people our age (72%). Our survey confirms this stat: for 33% of those we surveyed the best strategy so as not to get distracted is to simply put their phone away. However, a considerable percentage (29%) state that they can control themselves, proving that will power is the best way to fight distraction. No apps can overcome our determination, it’s up to our mental strength!
Even if the internet may appear as a huge obstacle for our productivity and work, we have to admit that this is the best era to grow up in. Each year we reach new unthinkable targets only thanks to digital technology. In the world we live in it’s so easy to follow our passion and to share it, we can create our own job, be innovative pioneers, satisfy our need of knowledge whenever and wherever we want. We’re enthusiastic to be able to see the world changing before our eyes knowing we can become a part of this amazing process.
P.S: if you’re reading this, turn off your device and start studying!