Last week, I reflected on an idea shared by many health experts: we have become a no-vacation nation. Despite compelling health reasons for taking time off, as Americans we have convinced ourselves that because we have way too much to do – not to mention the role technology plays in creating a world where constant distractions and commitments overwhelm the best of us.
“Distractions” is really the wrong term for what is going on. Distractions are things we think of as trivial or at least tolerable. This is different. We are so mesmerized by the lure of technology and our smartphones that we have little time to measure the effect time-draining, attention-stealing technology has on our lives – even less time to reflect on what it is doing to society.
I say this as a member of a generation that remembers life before Google and Facebook:
There are certain traditions I am sensitive about losing. When was the last time you heard the words “excuse me,” for example, by someone who stepped in front of you? I will not go too far into the concept of manners in general, which is already obsolete in today’s society. Let us just consider those two words used as a sign of acknowledgement and basic respect for another person. Setting adults aside for a moment, it is highly unlikely you will ever hear those words from a teenager. According to a 2018 study by Common Sense Media, half of the teens surveyed admitted they are so wrapped up with social media that they will not look up to acknowledge a person right in front of them.
Common Sense Media conducts research into media use every five years. Interviewed over a three-week period were more than 1,100 teens aged 13 to 17. Some of the results were surprising. According to the survey, 32 percent of teens said their favorite way to communicate with their friends is in person. Teens say they now prefer texting.
Teens are often depicted as being heedless of the consequences of spending so much time on their smartphones. In reality, teens are fully aware of the power of devices to distract them from key priorities, such as homework, sleep and time with friends and family. A large proportion of teens (44 percent) admitted that they get frustrated with their friends for being on their phones when they are hanging out together. In addition, nearly 3 out of 4 teens surveyed say they believe tech companies manipulate users into spending more time on their devices. While they are aware of these things, there is no indication these teens are prepared to change their behavior. After all, they like technology.
Another recently published study, based on data drawn from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey System of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows 1 in 3 teen drivers in the U.S. texts while driving.
As reported by Reuters News, in addition to texting while driving, more than 1 in 5 students ages 14 to 15 reported driving before they were eligible for a learner’s permit. The study found the rate of texting while driving has doubled in the past five years between kids ages 15 and 16 and continued to rise through age 17 and beyond.
The study concludes that, with such a clear association between age and texting while driving, sustained attention to this issue is necessary throughout adolescence. Also critical are positive parental role models. Here is the crux of the problem.
According to the Department of Transportation, a staggering 69 percent of drivers aged 18 to 64 in the U.S. admit to using their cellphone while driving. More than half the road accidents in this country have cellphones involved. In a separate survey by AT&T provided to USA Today, more than 98 percent of adults admit they know using a cellphone or texting while driving is wrong.
James Williams, a technologist-turned-philosopher and the author of the book “Stand out of our Light,” understands the power of what is now known as the “attention economy.” For a decade he worked at Google. But then he had a moment of clarity that changed his life.
“There was more technology in my life than ever before,” he told New York Times reporter Lucy Jones. “But it felt harder than ever to do the things I wanted to do.” He realized he was being controlled by a new mode of deep distraction.
Making technology work for us instead of against us has now become his life’s work. As he says in his book, “The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time.”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.