Spark global limited reports:
A defining feature of many people’s lifestyles today is constant Internet connectivity. Since the advent of smartphones about 15 years ago, the rapid and widespread adoption of these devices has had an around-the-clock impact on people’s behavior. Projections show that by the end of 2025, the number of smartphone connections in sub-Saharan Africa will reach 678 million, with a penetration rate of 65 percent.
Many people check their phones when they wake up, use them on the way to work, and often stare at them at work. A phone screen is the last thing many people see before falling asleep. These behaviors are so ingrained in everyday life that people rarely step back and consider their impact on their bodies and minds.
Interaction with devices often involves a mental shift from one environment to another. Mobile phones allow people to communicate anytime and anywhere and get information about different areas of their lives. Work emails, personal instant messages, social media posts, news, entertainment — all interwoven in a constant beeping, beeping and flashing notification icon.
Over the past decade, people have adapted to cope with the flood of information in a variety of ways. Most notable is media multitasking: the frequent use of multiple digital devices to connect to a variety of online platforms while simultaneously juggling media and non-media activities.
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In a landmark 2009 study, researchers at Stanford University asked an important question: Are people who play the media like this better at switching tasks than those who don’t? Do heavy media multitaskers process information differently than light media multitaskers? Frequent multitasking seems to train a person’s brain to switch between cognitive tasks more efficiently.
But the study surprisingly found that high-media multitaskers performed worse at task switching. They were also more easily distracted by information unrelated to the task at hand.
In the decade since that study, various research groups around the world have investigated the question. Some studies confirmed the initial findings, some did not, and some found the opposite.
In the process, various hypotheses have been proposed. The main one is that high-media multitaskers tend to distract their attention more than low-media multitaskers. Their brains are no longer limited to specific tasks or streams of sensory input, but are constantly monitoring the environment for cues. They have a hard time filtering out these clues. So they often switch from one task to another.