Smartphone use is like heroin addiction, Rutgers professor says
Think you're good at doing two things at once, like filling out paperwork while answering text messages, or monitoring Facebook as you take care of the kids?
A recently published book by a Rutgers University professor finds you're not as talented at multitasking as you may think, and it could help immensely to just give yourself a break every once in a while.
"We generally feel like we're on top of it for everything we're trying to do at once, but the brain is missing a whole lot more, and there's more of a cost in terms of cognitive burnout than we tend to appreciate," said Terri Kurtzberg, associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School in Newark and New Brunswick.
She's co-author of "Distracted: Staying Connected Without Losing Focus," which looks at the science behind the common distractions that make it a bit tougher to get through everyday life, without us realizing. Interruptions caused by today's devices, such as smartphones, have worsened the problem.
"We came across one statistic that said Americans in general check their phones 8 billion times every single day," Kurtzberg said.
Describing Americans as "accomplishment junkies," Kurtzberg said people always find the need to be in "go-go" mode, whether at work, home or elsewhere.
"Trying to stuff things like that into our lives minute by minute has opened up the opportunity that it’s okay and, in fact, it’s appropriate to ask this of ourselves and our minds," she said.
But that kind of overload is resulting in lower productivity and a higher likelihood of burning out, she noted.
Likening it to an addiction to heroin, Kurtzberg said individuals have a strong pull to their devices when they see it light up or hear a ring.
"They trigger our dopamine systems the same way other addictive behaviors do," she said. "The addiction is quite real and it's quite strong."
So how do you get unhooked? It probably won't be easy.
"The advice really has to do with understanding what the limitations are and figuring out how to maintain a chance to focus by separating out tasks as much as possible," Kurtzberg said.
That could mean setting up times of the day when you will not look at your phone. Or while working, keep it in a closed desk drawer. Kurtzberg's research shows the mere presence of a phone on your desk can impact your productivity.
She said some individuals choose for the "technology cleanse" — going phone-free for a day or so —but she doesn't believe that would result in a change in a behavior.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.