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Are Short Attention Spans Caused by Modern Work? (Podcast with Professor Gloria Mark)



We live in an era of unprecedented access to information. Technology has endowed us with the ability to immediately retrieve whatever we want to see or whatever we want to read, just by tapping on a screen a few times. Perhaps even more importantly, we have never had so much immediate access to one another, even when we are very far away. In turn, other people – as well as our devices – have the ability to reach out to us and seize our attention, literally 24 hours per day, seven days per week. But how does this relationship with technology affect our brains? Researchers are starting to examine the impact of digital tools on how we think and perform, and the results are not entirely rosy. Much of this research has investigated what we commonly refer to as “multi-tasking.” You already know this implicitly: when you are rapidly switching between two different activities, typically your performance on both suffers.

This area of research has also examined the impact of interrupted work, often in the form of digital notifications, like from email, text, or phone apps. You know how common this is, but you probably don’t realize the full impact. Studies that track employees have revealed that office workers who are interrupted take about 25 minutes to return to whatever task they were working on. And these interruptions take a significant toll on our well-being – research shows that these kinds of disruptions increase stress levels as well as impair productivity.



In this show, Dan speaks with Professor Gloria Mark from UC Irvine, who has been closely involved with much of the research I just described. Gloria is a professor in the department of informatics at UC Irvine, where she studies multi-tasking behavior in information workers, and technology use in disrupted environments. Her work examines how interaction with information technology affects attention, mood, and stress. 




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