Have We Reached Peak Distraction?

February 28, 2018

A few weeks back, I picked up a pair of Apple AirPods, because despite the fact I am a marketer by trade, I am a total sucker when it comes to futuristic product videos narrated by Jony Ive.

That said, I don’t own a smart speaker. Yet.

Anyway, this past weekend, my wife and son were visiting the grandparents in South Dakota. I couldn’t make the trip, so I was left with the house and four consecutive days to myself. At a certain stage in life — whenever parenthood begins — your time is rarely your own. Not for long stretches, anyway. That’s the deal. So, I embraced the 96 hours of me time, anticipating grandiosity, indulgence and, well, podcasts. A ton of podcasts. All of the podcasts. In reality, I ate Chipotle basically every meal, went to the gym only once, but I sure listened to podcasts.

Back to the AirPods. They have been a game-changer in the sense that streaming media directly into my earlobes has never been easier. And over the weekend, I came to the conclusion that’s probably a bad thing.

For instance, from the moment my feet hit the floor on Saturday morning until they landed back in bed at night, I must have listened to some type of media 80 percent of the day. I listened to podcasts while making coffee, doing dishes, doing laundry, shoveling the driveway, showering, driving around, doing errands, eating lunch, standing in line at Chipotle. During every otherwise mundane moment of the day, I was listening to music, watching videos or scrolling Twitter.

Now, let me just throw a leg over this high horse right here and take a stand, but against my own behavior. (I suspect this may apply to you, as well.)

Is it possible that because technology has made media so readily accessible that we’ve lost the ability to not have stimuli chucked at our frontal lobes for even a few spare minutes at a time? Okay, maybe for you it’s not listening to the fourth episode of 99% Invisible in a single day. But can you ride a train without checking social media? Eat alone at a restaurant without streaming a video? Walk to lunch without listening to music? Those are activities that require you reach no farther than your pocket to make them so. And in the case of AirPods, you don’t even need wires!

Earlier, I alluded to smart speakers. Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple HomePod. On the one hand, these devices are cool as hell, very impressive, and may reduce screen time. But ultimately, don’t they also get in the way of what we probably each need more of? Things like, I don’t know, quiet? Stillness? The ability to think a single, cohesive thought all the way to its end without distraction?