Digital Legacies: Switch

Julius Wiedemann examines the mental strain and attention deficits induced by contemporary demands for multitasking and constant engagement with digital media.

by Julius WiedemannPublished on : Aug 31, 2021

Multitasking is everything we strive for these days. We all have the same 24 hours, and many times what makes a difference, is how we use our time wisely. But very often, what we try to do, is to work on many things at the same time. These two things combined can create a lot of anxiety because we always feel we are running behind time. I got myself the other day on a treadmill, walking fast (not running), listening to music, and doing bank payments, all at the same time. When I see my kids playing games and I see they are talking to friends in another country, using the joystick, with a mobile phone on one side for a chat on Discord, and on the other an iPad with YouTube videos playing, I shiver. But then I am just doing the same thing, certainly not as naturally as they do, but I am getting there. The amount of information we must process these days is forcing us to create time. Certainly, one way of doing that is to multitask. But we all have limitations. The film Seven Pounds, starring Will Smith, is all about this contemporary tragedy. An executive crashes his car while desperately trying to reach his destination and simultaneously looking at his mobile phone. Released in 2008, the film synthesises the kind of anxiety that has become more normal than it should.

Multitasking has become a norm as well as a necessity for survival in the modern world | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Multitasking has become a norm as well as a necessity for survival in the modern world Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

To be present is to be able to pay full attention to what is happening, so that you can fully enjoy that moment, the people around you, and absorb the information that is available to you only at that time and in that context. Might sound cliché, but it's really not. The 21st century and the digital age are demanding a new type of exercise, which I call 'switch'. It definitely doesn't mean that we have only to do one thing at a time. That is almost impossible these days. What it means is that if we are able to fully concentrate on something that is bringing us a benefit, we should learn how to reach that concentration. Immersive experiences try to propose that, but are usually linked to entertainment or hospitality. The hotel and tourism industry knows a lot about immersion and how to disconnect for the rest of the world so that your enjoy your experience to its maximum.

The digital age has made it nearly impossible to do one thing at a time | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
The digital age has made it nearly impossible to do one thing at a time Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Disney's former CEO, Bob Iger, has mastered that for sure and has a Masterclass for that. With the header Discover the Business Insights Fuelling the Success of Disney Parks and Resorts, The Disney Institute also offers online courses for people to understand how the company has reached its success using not only sensitivities, but also well-crafted techniques. Domestika, on the other hand, offers a handful of courses about customer service and positioning, trying to train people how to understand the other side and to keep the attention high. During the pandemic, a lot of institutions made available courses online. Not all of them have a clear methodology, so if you are looking for one, it’s important to try to find good professionals, good production value, but also courses that were generated after thousands of hours of practical experience.

We are often forced to process overwhelming amounts of information on a daily basis | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
We are often forced to process overwhelming amounts of information on a daily basis Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

But as a citizen, and many times as consumers, we have to jump from one thing to the other, and we know by now how social media, for instance, can consume a lot of our time without offering any real benefit. So we have to concentrate and switch from one thing to the other, but always trying to focus our attention, so that we are not wasting our time. Everybody knows that feeling when after reading 10 pages of a book we realise we will have to read it all over again because we were not concentrating enough. Reading is one of those things that demand full attention. So is writing. These activities are a good learning point. When we observe ourselves doing those, and manage to relax enough not to think about anything else, we are on the right path.

Concentrating on activities that demand our full attention may be a good first step in a world rife with distractions and chaos | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Concentrating on activities that demand our full attention may be a good first step in a world rife with distractions and chaos Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

At the end we are talking about only one thing: performance. The ability to concentrate changes our ability to take decisions. The website headspace.com offers 16 types of meditation. Mindfulness, the most common one, is scientifically recommended for exercising your brain muscles. But they are other ways of doing it. Simply being conscious about the amount of things we have to do during our day is a good start. Little habits can help too. For example, not looking at the screen of your mobile phone while in a meeting. Or having a sketchbook to make notes about important things to provide insights into the moment. Digital tools like dictation, or simply voice notes are also examples of useful tools for us not to get lost. But I have an ultimate recommendation: Name your files really well and send messages to your own email with keywords that will come up when you were looking for these treasures. This way you will be building your own archive of thoughts, ideas, insights, and things that will certainly help you in the future.

Building a personal archive of thoughts, ideas, and insights with the help of digital tools, can aid in saving time and improving workflow efficiency | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Building a personal archive of thoughts, ideas, and insights with the help of digital tools, can aid in saving time and improving workflow efficiency Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.

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