I am Officially a Goldfish

How many times do you actually look at your phone during the day? At work? At uni? I feel like you would be surprised to know just how long you spend on Facebook, or how many times you unlock your phone each day. How good is your attention span really? Can you go all day without getting distracted by your phone? I did a little experiment with this exact thought process. How long, even when I’m at work or at uni, do I spend on my phone? Even unlocking it just to lock it again.. I was curious!

loading_attention_span_by_bongoskillz-d6smur0.jpg©2013-2016 BongoSkillz

So for a little context, I’m working at the moment full time, meaning I’m awake at 4am, driving to Sydney to work from 7-3pm and then driving all the way home to Kiama. I’m busy at work and when I’m not at work I’m busy at home. So how on earth do I have time to sit on my phone, I thought. Instead of conducting an experiment with someone else, as I really didn’t have the capacity to do that, I experimented my attention span on myself. Even now, writing this, I’m struggling to continue with a clear head as my phone goes off or work takes over my brain.

I downloaded the application on my phone ‘Checky‘, and also an application called “Quality Time”. Checky does what it sounds like… It checks how many times I unlock my phone during the day. Before I started this experiment, I thought maybe 30 times a day would be an approximate estimation. Quality Time is an app that quantifies how long you are on your phone after you unlock it, and also can be set up with warnings telling you that you have been on your phone for too long . It measures time on each application, and shows you a comparison of your day to day usage. I started this experiment thinking I was pretty good at not being on my phone… even when I had a full day of work.
Little did I know… My phone may as well have been attached to my hand all day long for all the good it does me.

I did this experiment over 3 weeks, from the 11th of September to the 30th of September.

During these weeks I had three days of Uni, and a lot of working days. I went about my days as normal. But to my surprise at the end of the three weeks, I had clocked up almost 55 hours on my phone. Facebook was the worse offender, with Instagram not even a close second. At first I didn’t think that this was a bad thing.. But the more I think about it I start wondering how much does this media distraction affect my cognitive ability to do my job, or drive, or pay attention to things I need to do not just my phone. The application Checky also surprised me, with one day telling me that I had unlocked my phone 121 times… and it had been a work day too! I shouldn’t have even looked at my phone for a good 8 hours. Even today it’s 11:37am and I’ve checked my phone 26 times! Screenshot_2016-10-05-11-37-46.png

This isn’t a finding that is a surprise to some people though, especially in the academic and scientific fields. A phenomenon of information pollution occurs when they’re is too much  information available (Bray, 2008) through numerous technology artifacts eg. smart phones, computers and laptops, iPads. It’s already noted in “Towards a Research on Information Pollution” that we as humans have limited attention spans and cognitive limits to our memory already (Cai and Zhang, 1996) and that was in 1996. Before Facebook came along, and before we could only watch 6 seconds of videos before we lost interest (Vine, we’re looking at you).

To be honest I am a little bit susceptible to being distracted by my phone…  And now there’s proof! It has encouraged me to try and leave the phone alone, take a break on the Facebook or Instagram and pay more attention to life, and to what’s happening around me. If I sat on my phone like I normally would while I’m out on my porch drinking my wine, I would have missed the most amazing sunset the other night. So, download the apps, see where you are and make a change in your habits. It can only be for the better.


Bray, David A., Information Pollution, Knowledge Overload, Limited Attention Spans, and Our Responsibilities as IS Professionals. Global Information Technology Management Association (GITMA) World Conference – June 2008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=962732 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.962732

Cai, K. and Zhang, C. (1996). Towards a Research on Information Pollution. Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, 3124-3129.

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