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EditorialsUp Front 08/16

Up Front 08/16

According to research done a few years ago, people in America spent more money on slot machines than theme parks, films and baseball put together. It is hard to imagine that pumping coins into machines could be so profitable, but according to Tristan Harris in a TED Talk some time ago, it is the result of ‘Fear of Missing Out’, or FOMO, to use its popular acronym. Harris was trying to find ways to make technology, and more especially digital communication, more useful. He pointed out that FOMO was causing people to refresh their email, social media and any other form of digital contact so often that the end result was a huge distraction from actually achieving anything. It is the same form of addiction as playing slot machines he explained. Each time you refresh you might find yourself tagged in a photograph, alerted to an inspirational video or even invited to a party. It doesn’t matter what the result is, it seems the fear of missing out requires us to do the equivalent of putting just one more coin into the slot—just in case. And each time we play that slot machine with our email or other form of digital communication we are sent off on a different thought process. It’s quite a distraction. One shocking observation that Harris cited, was from research by Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. Her findings show that it can take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on what we were doing before the interruption. She also found that people change their pattern of work in order to cope with such intrusions. However, that coping mechanism means having to work faster, less efficiently and with more stress. The results, unsurprisingly, mean a loss of quality. This isn’t something that is only applicable to the ‘Y’ or ‘Millennial’ generation—as those that grew up with computers and social media are called—we are all guilty of FOMO. However the Millennials are the first generation to spend their entire lives in the digital environment and how they live and work and what will become of human communication is a source of endless fascination. If only there was an app to help us see into the future—now that would be distracting.

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