Gustafson: Can we endure an idle moment |

Gustafson: Can we endure an idle moment

Twelve seconds, eight seconds, can I sustain your concentration longer than the average human attention span? Longer even than a goldfish? Beyond the din of external distractions I hear an inner voice constantly whispering, “Focus.”

But my phone pings, don’t look. Inbox flashing, hold off. Oh wait, was that calendar alert important, or just a reminder that today is International Ninja Day. (It actually is, in case you are wondering.) Really? International Ninja Day? Down the curiosity rabbit hole I plunge. Tomorrow is National Gazpacho Day, the first Friday in December also is Faux Fur Friday and Dec. 8, you guessed it, National Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day.

I forget, where I’m going with this? Oh yeah, back to 12 seconds. Or was it eight? OK fish brain, hit the glass, circle back around the bowl. Whether our brains are actually being fried by constant interruption, the digital deluge is taking a toll.

Multitasking was once considered a resume-worthy skill, but with the endless accumulation of media balls to juggle, our ability to stay on task is in Candy Crushing free fall.

Congratulations if you made it this far reading in print. Once you’ve checked your email, circle back for another 12 seconds, if you can remember where you left off.

If you are reading this online, try not to click through the ads and links streaming through this column. I probably lost you already.

Depending on the study, we smartphone users touch our devices on average somewhere between twice a minute and once every seven minutes. And when attempting to conduct tasks while receiving emails and phone calls, our IQ can literally be reduced by about 10 points relative to working in uninterrupted quiet. That is the equivalent to losing a night’s sleep and twice as debilitating as using marijuana. By one estimate, it takes nearly half an hour to recover focus fully for the task at hand after an interruption.

There is no denying it; distraction is a constant these days, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to tune out the din. Perhaps we fear missing out on important information, or the latest cute puppy post. Pick your poison. Have we become a culture unknowingly enslaved by AI? Our smartphone alerts are irresistibly addictive; they call (scream) to us.

This week my daughter’s fourth-grade play at Aspen Elementary featured technology-distractions, highlighting the rising social problem which is now even plaguing today’s elementary age children.

And while as parents we obsess over our children’s consumption of screen time, we seem to be devouring the forbidden fruits at alarming rates. We continue, even as awareness surrounding the real threats of data and privacy security and the loss of the autonomy of our individuality continues to go unchecked.

Research shows that an average office worker will open their email inbox 30 times every hour; that’s roughly every two minutes. In addition to notifications that need my attention, my personal inbox also is overflowing with spam. Still, these endless notifications are so perfectly aligned with my specific interests that they prevent me from unsubscribing. In fact, despite my criticisms of social media and our tech-obsessed nation, I’m still easily seduced by clever subject lines, clicking through and, oops, there goes half an hour of productivity or useful leisure time. On average we pick up our phones more than 1,500 times per week amounting to 3 hours and 16 minutes a day, that adds up to the equivalent of 45.5 days a year. What could you do with an extra month and a half annually?

Some of us never seem to actually fully put our phones away, even as we sleep.

In November 1958 Eleanor Roosevelt forewarned, “If the use of leisure time is confined to looking at TV for a few extra hours every day, we will deteriorate as a people.”

Einstein predicted, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

My point: Studies show that the average human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish, shortening from 12 to eight seconds in over a decade as the rise of smartphones and technology are decreasing our ability to focus. So what happens in 2028? At this rate, Goldfish will rule the world.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at

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