Unplugged: Digital Reflections for the Holiday

The daily grind of continuous digital interruptions is turning us into impatient, shallow, and intolerant individuals. During the holidays, take an “Internet Sabbath” and enjoy time with friends and family.

With the holiday season upon us, a moment of digital
reflection is in order. Consider the following:


• Fifteen years ago, the
average business email load was 15 messages per day and people spent about 50
minutes reading them. (Personnel Journal, 1996). I am sure many of you remember
the thrill of opening the email box and finding a message from a colleague and
marveling at how this technology of instantaneous communication worked. Contrast
that today’s explosion of email overload where several hundred email messages
per day is considered “normal” (not including text messages and phone calls). Today,
if you spent 50 minutes for every 15 messages, you would never get to the
bottom of the Inbox.

• Digital Interruptions are
making it almost impossible to focus on work tasks. Interruptions come from
many sources, including instant messaging, spam e-mail, telephone calls, and the
Web. Think this is
only your problem? One study found that
28% of an information worker’s day is wasted by digital interruptions. Basex
Research estimates that the impact of digital interruptions is 28 billion lost man-hours per
annum in the United States, at a cost of $588 billion.

• Even when you able to ignore
digital interruptions, you aren’t getting much work done. The New York Times recently reported that the
typical business worker changes computer windows an average of 37 times an hour.
Another study found that knowledge workers spend 15 % of their time each
day searching, and 50 % of these searches fail. So while you are
focusing on “doing something,” you end up flopping all over the place trying to
find the information you need to complete the task.


• Sure there is lots of
information out there, but who has the time or patience to read it. One study
found that most web pages are viewed for 10 seconds or less and fewer than 1 on
10 page views extend beyond two minutes. Another study claims the average time
spent on web page in the U.S. is 21 seconds.
Most people can’t absorb a web page’s information in 21 seconds. We have devolved into a group of skimmers.

A recent book by Nicholas Carr, The
Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains
, argues persuasively that
this mode of operation not only makes us unproductive, it also diminishes our
ability to think deeply. The daily grind of perpetual window toggling and continuous
interruptions is turning us into impatient, shallow, and intolerant
individuals, with a diminished ability to show empathy for our fellow man. Carr concludes that our online experience is
best summed up by the Roman philosopher Seneca: “To be everywhere is to be

So I suggest the upcoming holiday
time is a good time to disconnect the Internet and spend quality time with friends
and family. Taking a page (pun intended) from William Powers‘ new book Hamlet’s
, this is a good time to declare an “Internet Holiday.” Take the time to enjoy good company and ponder
how to make 2011 and simpler and more productive year. This year, be somewhere
and enjoy time with friends and family. Happy


About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.


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