Digital World Out of Focus

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In the current fast-paced technology age we are living in, information relevant to our interests is more readily accessible than ever before. No longer are we forced to dig through libraries and sift through paragraphs in books to find the material we are looking for. Vast resources of information are available at the touch of a button, leading us to believe we can find the material we need quickly and efficiently. However, we do need certain skills and knowledge to achieve that result. As information becomes more abundant and accessibility increases, we instinctually place higher value on our time and attention more than anything else.

The exponential growth of computer processing power, data storage and transmission has impacted human behaviour, reducing our ability to focus. Users want to access pertinent information quickly and comprehend it with no frills attached, placing more importance on the mode in which we obtain knowledge over the quality of the information itself. As users place more emphasis on speed and quick access, fewer resources are invested into developing content. As a result, publishers are prioritizing content that can be quickly absorbed, diminishing production of comprehensive information. With increased access also comes the burgeoning exclusion of authoritative content creators, with sites like Wikipedia paving the way for the average person to share their knowledge with the world. Ironically, the basis for the bulk of this shared information is resourced from content authored by traditional professionals such as journalists. The author of Information-rich and attention-poor Peter Nicholson argues that this shift in behaviour directly correlates to the lack of cutting edge concepts associated with great minds such as Albert Einstein.

We are constantly turning to social media to communicate with each other and interact with the online world. As made evident in the article Digital overload: How we are seduced by distraction by Erin Anderssen, this habit driven paradigm shift is causing us to sacrifice our productivity, intellectuality, mental and physical health. Anderssen points out several physiological responses such as elevated heartbeats and blood pressure, bruxism, and holding one’s breath during web searches. This increased social media obsession also comes with the price of a reduced attention span. An example of productivity loss that I can personally attest to is being constantly distracted by a large volume of incoming e-mails, shifting attention from important tasks and crippling work flow. The drawbacks are not limited to loss of productivity and diminishing physical health, as the stress of responding to e-mails can lead to depression and temporary drops in IQ. We are constantly compromising human interaction and relationships for social media, which can have an effect on one’s mental health. I can recall a specific situation at a dinner party where a tense atmosphere was directly caused by the obsessive use of smartphones to respond to tweets and messages. The author stresses the importance of increasing one’s awareness of their digital habits and recognizing the downfalls that come with it, pointing to examples such as missing out on valuable real life experiences while spending time online. Paradoxically, many software developers are becoming increasingly aware of the public’s interest in controlling their addiction to social media. This has resulted in the creation of software and even hardware designed to help users curb their habits by limiting their time on the web. The Light Phone is a sleek phone that embodies this ideal in every sense, stripping away the common features of a smartphone to encourage the user to experience the outside world in a more meaningful way.

Our attention is a highly valuable asset to online advertisers and marketers, and people have seemingly no problem giving it away without a second thought. Digital marketers are constantly finding new methods to grab the attention of users, whether it is through click-bait articles or viral videos that draw people to use their services or provide advertising revenue. Publishers write content directly related to the service they are promoting, often failing to explore beneath the surface of the topic at hand. It’s not uncommon to see digital marketers exploit the naiveté of an end user by offering just enough information to promote their product, and not representing the full scope of a product or service. This directly relates to the aforementioned articles as the lack of original thought and use of interruption tactics is a pervasive trend amongst online marketers. However, unique techniques are constantly being proven effective, with innovative marketers using useful content and real human interaction to connect with their customers. Some digital marketers use cheap methods to achieve short-term gain, while others build and strengthen relationships with their users by developing quality content catered to their interests.  I believe that separates an effective digital marketer from the rest of the herd.

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