A Slave to Your Devices? Me Too.

Some thoughts on valuing time and regaining control

Dr Victoria Powell

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Ryan Gander, Chronos Kairos, 88.88 (2023)

I was listening to a podcast this week about our diminishing capacity for sustained attention. Studies have shown that the duration of our focused attention has significantly decreased over the last twenty years, since our use of the internet started to increase. In 2004 the average time a desk-based information worker would spend on any one screen was 2.5 minutes; in 2012 this had reduced down to 75 seconds on average; and by 2020 the average attention span was just 47 seconds.

The typical pattern of behaviour showing up in these studies was that people would be interrupted from the task they were initially working on, and then interrupted from the interruption by something else, and then interrupted from that, and so on. It takes on average about 25 minutes for workers to get back to the original task.

I recognise this scenario in my own working habits. As I was sitting down to write this on Friday afternoon, with a full solid hour ahead of me to really get cracking, it must have been all of 47 seconds before an Instagram notification popped up on my phone screen. I reached for it of course and swiped open, checked the message and replied. And then I thought that I would just have a quick look at the feed to see if any of my favourite instagrammers…

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Dr Victoria Powell

I write about art, history, politics & culture, without the confusing art speak. Crazy about dogs. Victorian historian. 19th-century gentleman in a former life.