We are living in a connected, always “on call”, time-disrupting world. Whether your interruption is from a news outlet push notification alerting you to the latest think piece, or your personalized stream of email, text messages, Slack and Microsoft Teams notifications. Many of us are left with an always “on-call” feeling. And it’s only getting more frenetic. The evolution of digital media has produced a rise in short-burst Internet video entertainment over long-form, scripted television. The digital age is an on-call, always on, always changing, instant information, instant message marketplace. But how is this going to affect us? What is it going to cost us? And when?
The office culture of always on-call availability has led to alloted project and task times shrinking, and resulted in multitasking becoming a workplace imperative. For your personal well-being you may have vibrations on your wrist from your smartwatch, reminding you to be more active or congratulating you on being active. In your office space you may have that coworker who just won’t stop pacing back and forth on the phone as you’re trying to focus. Open-plan offices don’t make finding personal space to concentrate any easier. In sum today’s worker has to navigate constant interruptions.
More and more, however, those personal and office distractions are revealing something about us that may have been lingering, never fully exposed until today’s open office cauldron of distraction. That reveal is that — that former straight A (or B+, ‘cause …”reasons”) student now office worker, — That child, who was motivated back-in-the-day to read parts of the textbook that weren’t assigned as homework, is now an adult motivated to read that long-form think piece foisted upon them by their hometown newspaper’s mobile app. And that adult is distracted from their work tasks.
That adult may very well have an attention disorder, and it’s been simmering for a long time. Many adults seeking treatment would find that they’re far from being alone.
According to a study published November 2019 in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, over the 10-year period spanning from 2007 to 2016, there was “a 43 percent increase in the rate of adults being newly diagnosed” with ADHD in the Kaiser Permanente health system in northern California, Dr. Michael Milham, vice president of research at the Child Mind Institute, told CNN. The numbers are there: adults are officially medically prone to distraction. Why is this the case?
“There is no doubt that longer work hours, constant interruptions, and decreased sleep time are contributing to the rise of ADHD,” says Dr. Alex Dimitru, double-board certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist at Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, located in the Silicon Valley area of northern California. These constant demands for attention, combined with a lessened stigma for seeking help for mental health disorders, are pushing more adults toward getting help for an attention disorder that may have been there all along. Often times, it’s the treatment and therapy of a child that brings an adult to realize that keeping attention has been a challenge for them since adulthood.
Take Raj Kapur, for example. His son, Margis, has been using Narbis neurofeedback glasses to help him maintain focus and pay attention to his homework. It was from watching his son struggle with distraction that Raj realized, that he, too, faced similar challenges with concentrating on one task at a time.
“I guess as an adult, I never thought that it was wrong, or strange, or any learning difference, because that’s the only way I’ve ever lived, and I’ve lived for nearly 40 years,” Raj noted in an interview with Narbis.
One possible reason for the lack of attention disorder diagnoses among children is that the symptoms can present themselves differently. Many children — especially boys — are diagnosed with attention disorders because of hyperactivity issues. Yet a quiet child who seems prone to daydreaming might get just as easily distracted.
“Being able to pay strong attention and focus only on what is needed and ignore the rest has never been easy,” says Dr. Sagan. “But in today’s digital age, it is even more complicated.”
Ironically, technology might actually help be part of the solution to adult inattentiveness. Continues Dr. Sagan, “adults are using prescriptions [for attention disorders] when needed, but there has also been a big trend in the use of mindfulness-based therapies to self train attention naturally.”
Narbis is an at-home tool that uses neurofeedback to measure and track brain activity to alert the user when it appears that they are no longer paying attention. This can help bring clarity and focus in an often noisy world.
And in this day and age, mental blinders can only help — especially when Courtney from marketing is on her second lap of her cell phone pacing.