Features Hub Interview

Mind medicine: Disposing of digital distractions

Mon 18 Feb 2019 | Dr. Anastasia Dedyukhina

Are we too addicted to this century’s technological marvels? Consciously Digital founder, Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina has examined the issue more than most. She speaks to John Bensalhia

Technology is a wonderful thing. It can provide easy convenience, boost business, and help vital sectors such as healthcare and schools.

But sometimes there is too much of a good thing. A problem with technology is that it is created to make us addicted by exploiting vulnerabilities in our brain. Smartphones, for example. Whether it’s for catching up with the latest news, the latest TV or the latest social media trends, it does feel as if we can’t do without our phones. Even common pastimes such as watching TV or attending concerts are done with phone in hand.

It’s a concern that inspired Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina to found Consciously Digital in 2015. “I had worked in tech for a number of years. I worked in digital marketing and was an account director for an advertising agency in London (ironically, convincing people to use more technology!”).

“The problem was that I realised that I was connected with technology 24/7. I wasn’t sleeping well. I would go to sleep with my phone in my hand (even if it was switched off). It got to the point where I felt phone vibrations in my pockets even when I didn’t have any pockets! So that was the point when I replaced my smartphone with a basic Nokia model.”

Four years ago, Anastasia realised that this was an issue that concerned everyone, after telling other people about her concerns. Consciously Digital was founded to raise awareness of this problem, and to help people achieve a better balance between spending time on and offline.

“To clarify, what we are not doing is telling people to get rid of their smartphones and other devices,” explains Anastasia

“Creative thinking is a key asset in today’s workplace, but you need to be able to get focused and then have an ‘empty’ brain to be creative”

“It’s more complex than that. What we do is to raise awareness of how over-reliance on technology changes us. It can affect how we interact, for example. We need to make sure that the technology we use doesn’t exploit us. What I do is to educate people about these issues through methods such as talks and training programmes.”

Built to binge

So why are people so addicted to their tech gadgets? Anastasia says that this is due to a mindset vulnerability. “Our brains are looking for novelties and opportunities. Exploring new things give us rewards. For example, on social media, we keep looking for novelty, expecting new likes. It is the expectation of the reward that keeps us online.”

More time spent online means that more data is collected, which in turn means greater profits for the companies looking to exploit people’s interest in social media. Even Netflix TV is a different proposition in terms of the way in which people watch programmes.

“Online streaming channels broadcast one episode immediately after the other one has finished,” says Anastasia. “It’s a way of increasing your time. People underestimate the time spent with modern technology.  We have to change habits and create structures supporting us in it.”

Too much reliance on today’s gadgetry can result in a number of issues. Lack of focus and concentration. Reduced creativity. Inability to problem solve. Less emotional empathy.

“When scientists analysed the study habits of teenagers, they found that the youngsters were distracted approximately every three to six minutes. They would go off and do something different (such as send an email). It led to a lack of concentration and focus.”

It’s a problem that spreads to the workplace. The more distractions there are, the greater the chance that employees get into the habit of self-interrupting instead of concentrating on the task in hand. “Creative thinking is a key asset in today’s workplace,” says Anastasia. “But you need to be able to get focused and then have an ‘empty’ brain to be creative. What skills are we developing if we are distracted by gadgets such as smartphones? If that’s the case, we become more machine-like and less competitive.”

Another downside of these daily distractions is that it can take longer to complete the job in hand. This, in turn, leads to later nights, less sleep, and more stress.

But could this approach be about to change?

“Interestingly, we are seeing a backlash,” says Anastasia. “For example, in some of the local Notting Hill shops, a top seller is the board game. There are also multiple retreats for courses such as The Here And Now, yoga, survival skills, and Back To Nature. It’s something that’s being talked about by Brits. In the tech community, there are also more talks about how to achieve a greater sense of sustainability.”

While it’s not a scenario that tech companies will want (sophisticated methods will be introduced of persuading people to use their devices more), Anastasia says that there are ways of monitoring how long we spend with technology, and initiatives such as Google’s Digital Wellness Programme.

“While I don’t think that these will solve the problem (with people still waking up to technology), I do, however think that there is growing awareness of the problem. It will be interesting to see where this goes in the future.”

Join me at Cloud Expo Europe.

Anastasia is presenting at Cloud Expo Europe, taking place at ExCeL London March 12-13th. CEE and its colocated events attract over 20,000 IT industry professionals.

Experts featured:

Dr. Anastasia Dedyukhina

Founder
Consciously Digital

Tags:

addiction digital smartphones
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