Distractions at the Computer

The New York Times has a very interesting article on distractions while using a computer. Researchers are finding that computer users use all types of distractions to keep from or interrupt themselves while doing focused work on the computer, e.g., checking email, looking at the weather, keeping up with your music service, making that hotel reservation, checking to see whose online in your instant messaging service, searching for information on that new appliance you want to buy. (Can you tell I have firsthand experience with this?)

Some researchers are trying to find solutions that will diminish these distractions. Some of them include simple things like using smooth scrolling instead of jumpy. Others are finding ways to determine whether an email message is important enough to notify you while you are focusing. Some at Microsoft are trying to determine how a user is directing their attention (i.e., are they focused on a specific task?). Knowing that, software can determine how busy the person is and how many and what type(s) of distractions would be allowed at that time.

I look at distractions in a positive way. As another of the researchers state, “I shouldn’t knock distraction completely, because it can be useful. It can clear the mind and give you a needed break from a very linear kind of thinking.”

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