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Bursts of information inhibit our ability to focus

June 18, 2010


Video surveillance sign by Quadell (GNU Free Documentation License)


A recent article in the New York Times, (“Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price“, 6 June 2010) argues that multitasking makes it difficult for people to focus on a specific task. This is because the brain has been trained to pay attention to the kind of constant interruptions that characterize online work and play. Email, Twitter, and other services that deliver a continuous flow of information create a constant distraction that we become accustomed to. As a result, we lose the ability to concentrate on any single activity for an extended period.

Fortunately, there is a cure, or at least a partial solution. The article includes a plug for RescueTime, a web-based analytics and time management tool for “knowledge workers who want to be more efficient and productive“. The company also offers a “team time tracking solution for powerful business intelligence” that helps managers to track the productivity of groups and individuals. Workplace surveillance never sounded so good. Of course, the service comes at a price – US$6 – $9 per month for individuals, or up to US$15 per user per month for the “Team Edition”. For individuals looking for a “freebie,” there is “RescueTime Solo Lite.” Rather than trading money, you simply trade your privacy.

RescueTime’s Privacy Policy states that, although personal information is collected, the company does not disclose or sell this to others. However, they “may sell, rent, or share information about user behavior in the aggregate,” such as “which day of the week do people spend the most time in front of their computer?” The information collected by the company is used to report that, for example “Computer users visit an average of 40 Web sites a day” – a statistic that is reported in the New York Times article. RescueTime also reserves the right to “occasionally send one-time messages about important RescueTime news” and to “contact you with data that you care about.” The cure for distraction, in other words, is distracting promotional messages. Not to worry. Along with the stress that results from not checking your email frequently enough for such messages, you will gain a “warm and fuzzy feeling for supporting people who are building great software.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 25, 2010 10:20 pm

    I had read the NY Times article at the time it was published and find it very interesting how you contextualised it. Trading privacy is indeed what is conveyed as increasingly required in order to keep things under control. An illusion of control that is.

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