Media use and distractions

The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation focusing on the major health care issues facing the U.S. They conduct research on issues affecting health, including the effects of media usage on young people. This month they published a study which found a huge increase in TV, music, phone, computer, and video game usage among 8-18 year olds compared to just five years ago. The rate of increase also accelerated over those years. What was also interesting was the increase in multi-tasking in that age range, where people are using two devices at once, such as texting while watching YouTube videos or talking on the phone while watching TV.

This would seem to be the situation with adults also. It is quite easy to observe today that as soon as the television programme, meal or meeting gets less interesting, people pull out their Blackberries and iPhones and starting checking messages, mail or the net. Now that laptops are much smaller it is possible to work on them while watching TV, and working on them may entail social networking while actually writing a report.

It is clear now that the speed of technological advances is not going to slow down. If anything it will get faster, and we will increasingly live in a connected and media-saturated world. Although many of the advances are helpful it is not clear that all lead to a greater sense of calm. Indeed many studies show links between increased stress and the breakdown in work-life and home-life boundaries.

Mindfulness encourages us to pay attention to what is happening and to simplify our focus of attention. Continually practising being divided in our attention only strengthens the possibility of being scattered and having no sense of being centred. It can increase our sense of anxiety. So we can become aware of our urge to immediately check emails or send that text right now. It can be useful to interrupt the urge and see if our life will actually fall apart.

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