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Josh Misner, PhD

Mindful Living in a Distracted World

Exactly How Distracted Are We? Understanding the Scope of the Age of Distraction

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Ten years ago, a new word was added to our vocabulary: Nomophobia, or the fear of being without one’s phone.

The term was coined as a result of a British study in 2008, which found that slightly more than half the UK population exhibited signs of this fear. For several years, this term was tossed around as a joke. Most people, myself included, rolled their eyes when they heard it, filing it away in their minds with other irrational fears, like coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

Fast forward 10 years to today, when the film adaptation of Stephen King’s It has most of us firmly entrenched in the fear of clowns, myself included, and more than 90% of smart phone users report feeling uneasy without their phones, while about 70% describe feeling naked or missing a limb.

When we look at the data, nomophobia doesn’t seem all that funny anymore, and today, there’s a strong push among researchers for nomophobia to be studied as a clinical form of anxiety.

But wait, it gets worse! Six years ago, another term was coined in relation to our apparent techno-addictions, and this one is fun to say: Phubbing, which is short for phone-snubbing, or the act of using a phone in the same way that an ostrich uses sand.

As with before, people laughed at first, but all it takes is some quick and dirty observation to see it in action. Observe people in line at the grocery store. Observe parents waiting to pick up their kids from school or hanging out at the local playground. I could give you a hundred different scenarios, but they’re all the same. In each situation, you find people with their faces buried in screens rather than talking with one another.

A 2016 Baylor University study, aptly titled, “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone,” discovered a clear correlation between phubbing and decreased marital satisfaction, and a Chinese follow-up study based off this one showed increases in depression as well.

Taking this a step further, a European study conducted on couples eating dinner together showed that even the mere presence of a phone, like having it simply sitting on the table while eating, leads to measurably more negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality.

So, where does all this distraction come from?

It has been famously stated that trying to find information by way of the internet is like trying to take a drink from a fire hose.

Allow me to put this in perspective because, sometimes, these numbers can be too big to even comprehend.

Our computers and phones operate using 1s and 0s. Each of those digits is called a Bit. When we group 8 of those digits together, we have a byte. Sound familiar?

One thousand of those is a kilobyte, and a typical Word document might be about 50-100 kilobytes or so.

One million bytes later, we have a megabyte. If I pull out my phone and take a selfie, the resulting picture would be about 1 megabyte.

Group together 1 billion bytes, and we get a gigabyte. My first computer way back in 1996 had a whopping 4GB hard drive, and that was high technology at the time. Even though I dropped three grand on that thing, I recall thinking I’d never fill the hard drive, but the flash drive currently in my pocket has 16 times that storage space, and even it is almost full.

When we get a trillion of these bad boys together, we have a terabyte. My son’s cheap computer has a 1 TB hard drive, and my external backup hard drive has 4 TB of storage. As of today, that’s the most space I have ever owned at one time.

Let’s go big here:

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

This number is a zettabyte: a 1 with 21 zeroes after it, or as my kids might say, a thousand-billion-billion.

Here’s some perspective on exactly how big that number is…

In 2009, the entirety of the worldwide web, according to a report by The Guardian, was half a zettabyte.

If we ran over to Best Buy and bought every last 1 TB SATA hard drive they had (the standard hard drive likely sitting inside your computer) and placed these drives flat on the ground, end-to-end lengthwise in a single-file line, we’d have a line that stretched around the equator of our planet almost eight times before we had a total of one zettabyte of storage. The retail cost of all those hard drives, based on their current worth, would be around $45 billion plus tax based on current Amazon prices.

In 2003, Mark Liberman calculated that, if all speech ever spoken by the whole of humanity since the dawn of language had been recorded and stored, it would take up an estimated 42 zettabytes.

By the year 2025, humanity will have created AND digitally stored more than 200 zettabytes.

That’s a really big fire hose.

And now you know the staggering scale of the Age of Distraction and exactly why it is so critically important for our species to become more mindful with respect to controlling our attention, as well as our consumption of information.

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”
—Oliver Wendell Holmes

My (first) TEDx Experience

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Allow me to start this reflection with some context.

I’ve been teaching communication, which includes as my bread and butter, intro to public speaking, better known as the dreaded college speech class, for the better part of 11 years.

Prior to that, I was a budding communication major who enjoyed the challenge of public speaking, but about 16 years ago, I walked into a speech class for the first time full of dread. I tried everything I could to get out of that class. Can I test out of it? “No.” Can I substitute it for a writing class? “No.” You get the idea. Continue reading “My (first) TEDx Experience”

Everything I Know About Forgiveness, I Learned From My Dog

Allow me to begin this story by emphatically declaring that I am much more of a cat person than a dog person. I’ve always identified with the following quote from Robert De Niro’s character in Meet the Parents:

You see, Greg, when you yell at a dog, his tail will go between his legs and cover his genitals, his ears will go down. A dog is very easy to break, but cats make you work for their affection. They don’t sell out the way dogs do.

I genuinely admire the way I have to earn a cat’s love and affection. In fact, I have a cat at this moment who did not warm up to me for at least a few years, but once I earned her trust slowly and methodically, I became her best friend (until I rub her belly, and then all bets are off). Continue reading “Everything I Know About Forgiveness, I Learned From My Dog”

23 Father’s Days, and These 7 Lessons Are All I Have to Show For It

A dozen years passed between the first time I witnessed the birth of one of my children and the last time I cut an umbilical cord. I was a mere 19 years old the first time, blissfully ignorant, arrogant, and ready to take on the world, while at 31, for my last child’s birth, I had grown, changed, and matured considerably. In fact, I was barely the same person.

This Father’s Day marks the 23rd time I’ve claimed my right to the holiday, and although my entire world changed between the first and last birth, even more has changed from the last birth until today (almost exactly a decade). Continue reading “23 Father’s Days, and These 7 Lessons Are All I Have to Show For It”

12 Dads, an 84-Mile Walk, and 53 Gallons of Blood

An Indian writer named Shakuntala Devi once stated, “Numbers have life; they’re not just symbols on paper.” The numbers in the title above represent much more than a headline designed to build a reader’s curiosity; they represent life, laughter, and above all else, life-altering opportunity.

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In early July, 2016, one dozen renowned writers and fathers from all over the United States (from the Pacific Northwest, to the heartland, to the eastern seaboard) will embark on an epic journey, leaving their home country to cross the Atlantic and heading for England. Continue reading “12 Dads, an 84-Mile Walk, and 53 Gallons of Blood”

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