The cost of distraction

by alec on October 28, 2006

In New Technology Takes Mental Toll on Workers, Kevin Coughlin writes about the impact of cell phones, email, text messaging, and so on, on productivity.

E-mails, instant messages, cell phone calls, text messages, RSS feeds, Weblog updates, hundreds of TV channels, satellite radio, electronic billboards, even bottle caps — the information seems to come from every direction.

. . .

The technology market research firm International Data estimates 22.3 trillion e-mails will be sent this year. On average, workers must wade through about 40 every day.

That isn’t counting at least 3 billion instant messages relayed daily by America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft, says analyst Samir Sakpal of Frost & Sullivan international industry consultants. Another 81.2 billion text messages flashed onto Americans’ mobile phones last year, Sakpal says.

The numbers add up to a productivity paradox.

Electronic interruptions waste 28 billion man-hours per year in this country, at a cost of $588 billion, concludes a survey of more than 1,000 information workers by the consulting firm Basex.

He talks about a productivity paradox, but let’s take that one step further. Today’s information driven workplace and the attendant technology, is a fundamentally disempowering environment. How is it reasonable to expect any work of consequence to be accomplished in that environment?

Speaking from personal experience, my highest productivity is on airplanes — no internet, no cell phones, no text messages.

Our industry’s business model — the metering of minutes of usage — exacerbates the problem. In an environment where the model is to charge the customer for usage, there is no incentive to help the customer curb usage.

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