Confessions of a Digitally Addicted Millennial
HeyHuman innovator Felix Morgan manges to fights off the digital distractions and share some insightful findings.
We're all digitally obsessed, admits HeyHuman innovation strategist Felix Morgan - who speaks from personal experience.
But perhaps, as he suggests, that ain't a bad thing. Rather than be defined because you lived through the MySpace generation, Morgan assesses what effect growing up with social media has on young creatives today and gives some tips on learning to control the distractions that litter our daily lives.
Before settling down to write this, I realised that I’ve already procrastinated for 35 minutes.
I came in to work early this morning to write the article, but I’m still stuck on my first sentence. It’s not that I don’t want to write it... it's just that there are so many distractions to work through first.
For a start, I didn’t get to check Reddit properly on my commute. So, as soon as my browser loads up, I’m faced with a series of fresh blue links to explore.
While I do a quick check of my favourite subreddits, my phone starts buzzing as my friends discuss Chelsea’s string of losses on WhatsApp. A few seconds later, another friend sends me a funny video from the new Star Wars game on Facebook that he says I need to watch straight away…
After 25 minutes at my desk, I finally manage to get out of the content rabbit hole I’ve ended up in – and I open up Word so that I can begin writing my article. Then my boss emails me to tell me that I need to get something done urgently... I complete this, quickly re-check Reddit (obviously) and then I’m able to work, finally.
This is a pretty typical morning for me.
And I’d imagine it’s quite similar for a significant proportion of young people working in agencies and other office environments across the UK and beyond. At first glance, all of this could easily be interpreted as simple laziness – or a lack of good old-fashioned discipline. However, I think it’s symptomatic of a much bigger problem.
This isn’t new behaviour for me. I grew up in the first wave of people whose social interactions were essentially conducted via the internet. While I didn’t have Snapchat or Yik Yak when I was at school, I did largely discover flirting through MSN Messenger. We didn’t have emojis, but we did use emoticons to express our mood and feelings. I had to rank my friends at an early age, discovering the politics that comes with quantifying your social group through Myspace’s Top 8.
Most importantly, whenever I was trying to do my homework, of course I had my mobile phone close at hand – ready for exchanging hundreds of texts per night with my nearest and dearest. Mine was the first generation of people who grew up on a diet of notifications and friend requests.
Now, 10 years later, I’m working in a creative agency and all of this has only been amplified. Distractions are more prominent than ever and smartphones play an even bigger role in our lives.
About 90 percent of 18-29 year olds admit to sleeping with a smartphone next to (or mostly likely in) their bed. And in the UK, we use our phones on average 150 times per day. Technology has become an accepted part of everyday life. Although the smartphone offers us more utility, it’s also got us hooked.
On a neurological level, there is something quite alarming going on here. Research shows that every time you check your smartphone, your brain releases dopamine (the reward hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone). This tricks you into thinking that this behaviour deserves to be rewarded - which encourages you to do it more. We’re caught in a self-amplifying loop, using more technology but finding it harder to escape.
Escaping is a very real challenge for me, especially when I'm working in an office environment. And I'm sure its a problem affecting a large proportion of the population, not least the millenials.
We are more distracted than ever and it’s affecting us in ways that we are only just beginning to acknowledge.
Earlier this year, we at HeyHuman conducted some neuroscience research about tech distractions. Using EEG headsets (below), we measured the brain activity of several volunteers put through a series of realistic multi-tasking activities. When people were distracted and switching between channels quickly, they were far less emotionally engaged - and found it harder to process new information.
This is something that has to be considered by brands. Our job - as communicators - is to share information, but if our target audience is too distracted to process that information, it becomes much harder.
Since this experiment, we’ve formulated a new approach for brands to communicate and function within our ever-evolving modern society. By creating a friendly guide for our creatives and arming them with some new techniques, we hope they will be able to cut through the noise.
We suggest creatives:
Find the balance between complex storytelling and using the brand’s already effective visual mediums
Adopt multi-sensory marketing tools to engage and appeal to both the auditory and visual elements of the brain at the same time
Design experiences for the moment and not just at that moment
We've found that these comms considerations are paying dividends for HeyHuman clients. As brands inevitably struggle to make their voices heard – especially in a world where everyone is exposed to 3,000 adverts daily and is switching channels 21 times per hour – these tools and techniques may be able to bring some sort of stability.
But enough of that… I’ve been chronically neglecting my WhatsApp messages and have not checked Reddit for almost 45 minutes.