Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

Summary: Used to be – say, two-and-a-half months ago – that I studiously avoided all the new “social” media.Why did I need MySpace?

TOPICS: Collaboration

Used to be – say, two-and-a-half months ago – that I studiously avoided all the new “social” media.

Why did I need MySpace? Why did I need Facebook? Why did I need Twitter?

If you wanted to get ahold of me, if you were important to me and I to you, you had my phone number or my email address.

In fact, this helped me focus. Email, in particular, acted as a singularly powerful organizing tool. Any communication I had with anyone of consequence (or not) could be found in a quick search of years worth of email.

Now, though, I’m checking my Facebook stream regularly – and trying to remember to check that in-box as well. There’s also the LinkedIn inbox. And even though I get alerts about new messages back in my regular mailbox, they still need tending. Meanwhile, I’m trying to think of big or little thoughts to “share” with friends. Got to keep up the socializing or pushing the personal brand or both. As one friend puts it:

“We are being led to believe that unless we participate in these activities we will be left behind and it will impair our social lives and careers.’’

I am more worried about that second part. If I really started Twittering at every turn and keeping up a stream of social status updates and Skyping and IM’g and working three email boxes around the clock, there’d be precious little time to … focus on what matters. The job at hand.

Figuring I was not alone in trying to deal with this ‘splittering’ of attention and concentration, I decided to consult with Dr. David W. Goodman, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He’s an assistant professor in its department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences as well as the director of Maryland’s Adult Attention Disorder Center.

Are all these colliding forms of communication, from 140-word Twitters and status updates to the maintenance of blogs to the constant stream of Blackberry email messages, combining to create a new strain of Adult Attention Disorder?

No, he said. Even in adults, attention disorders are psychiatric in nature and, 75 percent of the time, inherited. Genetically determined. A chronic condition that usually emerges on childhood and which leads to daily battles with disorganization in thinking.

What is happening with the splittering of communications instead is an overload of distractions, on individual plates.

This puts strain, instead, on what Dr. Goodman calls the “executive functioning” of the brain.

Some people are able to intuitively and naturally organize and prioritize endless streams of inputs and respond accordingly, rapidly.

Others, though, succumb to the distractions and can’t get out from under them. The barrage of communications and trying to figure out what to do with their contents – and the emotion that goes with some of it – “disrupts the ability to accurately prioritize” what to do. Or not to do.

Young people are better at dealing with it. But not immune.

If distraction leads to disorder in your life, then it will take conscious application of basic organization techniques to rectify. Many of which are easier said, than executed.

Here are some of Dr. Goodman’s recommended techniques:

Screen your screens. Turn off all your screens, when you have work to do.

Grey out the Blackberry. You may not be able to turn it off, but figure out how to set the vibrator to only go off when your boss is trying to reach you.

Slot your communication time. Set an alert to check your Twitter stream just once an hour. Establish a practice of checking your email twice a day, at set times, such as 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Check everything else on your own time.

Slot your ‘to do’ time. This is the hard one. The natural tendency is to just let the ‘To Do’ list build up and then tackle each item, when there’s time. Make time. Assign an hour to each item, just like it was a meeting or event. Close the door. Do it.

If your day and your focus is still breaking down, you’re going to have to even set some time up for figuring out what your priorities really are (and why) as well as setting (then hitting) deadlines.

All this may mean you’ll have to resist the ethos of the social media and electronic communications that almost has come to be:

I twitter, therefore I am.

IMAGE SOURCE: Prudent Juris, Australia

Topic: Collaboration

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  • Social Media

    Never been to one and don't intend to start now. That is not to say that they are bad, and I am sure business and social cases can be made for using them in many circumstances.

    When you do look at the level of quality of a VERY large percentage of the TalkBacks here at ZDNet, including the long off-topic and often pointless threads that develop (which translate into clicks I presume), I must say that I do not wish to be exposed to any more social media. Separating the wheat from the chaff is just TOO tedious.
  • Only fools spew private data to the world domain

    Yes, and fools will wonder why their identity is stolen, why someone is using their resume, their pictures and basically their life that will go on without recourse.

    Public Domain & Private Data is a DISASTER.

  • RE: Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

    I personally don't feel like there are enough hours in the day to do what I need to get done and there are already too many distractions so I don't feel inclined to add new ones to my list. There's probably a real business application for social media -- to move your business up on a search engines, to promote your expertise in a certain field etc. But everyone needs their disconnect time. Mine is scuba diving -- and I wouldn?t be surprised if someone doesn?t come up with a way to enable twittering while underwater. Or would that be called ?flippering??
  • Increasing less relevant...

    I find that the Internet is increasingly irrelevant in my life, which is strange as I develop web sites for a living!

    But I met my girlfriend last year and since having a "real" life, I just don't have the time, outside of work, to spend on-line. We are always doing something, going for walks, talking to each other, going out. I just don't need to frequent the forums as much, check my e-mails outside of office hours etc.

    I still e-mail people who I am close to, in real life, but I've never seen the point of the MyWasteOfFaceSpaceBook, let alone Twitter.
  • RE: Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

    It's difficult enough just managing 'reality' without diluting available time with patter. Only those with nothing better to do seem to derive satisfaction and thrive with the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
    The article has good recommendations. Time is like any other resource: manage it wisely and reap the benefits; squander it and suffer the consequences.
    Yes, I'm an IT guy; yes, I make my living using the Internet; and no, I *don't* advocate 'living online' as a viable option.
  • Whatever happened to privacy?

    Why has society become so obsessed with "sharing" our private thoughts and moments with the world? Why have we become so consumed with communications that we can't even put our cell phones down while tending to a call of nature? What makes us think that what we think, do, care about, or eat really matters to anyone but ourselves?

    One day soon, all of this "sharing" is going to backfire. A note that you left in your Facebook blog about the Catholic Church will mean that your trip to Rome is canceled. Or you start receiving stalker-mail because you broke up with you last boyfriend or girlfriend. Or you're denied credit because of a disparaging comment you made on Twitter about the situation with the banking bail-out.

    Live in the real world. Cultivate real friendships. Communicate face to face. Only share your vacation photos with those you truly interact with. Only give your resume' to the business you're trying to get a job with.

    However, Even as this blog post intrudes on my daily schedule, I'm torn as sharing my thoughts on this is an example of what I'm speaking against - Catch 22.
    • I agree - I have

      a facebook page. Primarily to watch my kids. And I check it -maybe once a week? I' Linked-In as well, and again, I update it with new project information or SAP areas that I uncover, but that's it. There are people obsessed with telling everyone what they are doing...I don't get it. And I think twitter is the biggest joke...

      And the back-fire is already happening. HR departments are scanning Facebook, LinkedIn and other "social" (that's just too funny a name) sites for a "true" profile on the user. I can't find the link but ZDNet reported that more and more agencies are doing "research" on you through the social sites. Ahh the lawyers are going to have fun with this now...God help us.
      US Is ! Europe-ThankGod!
  • RE: Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

    Just a factoid: Twitter is limited to 140 characters, not words.
  • delegate work though Social network tools

    The only winners in this situation will be those who figure out how to delegate work though Social network tools.
    This may sound like an oxymoron, but the reality is that work won?t stop just so you can tell the world that you just had a cup of coffee. However if you can use the social tools to gather workers around a project, or gather people for an event then you have something. So far the only thing close to this is tell 50 people to gather at the train station and stand still. A great demonstration of gathering and motivation, but not much productivity to it.
  • RE: Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

    imho the author needs a new shrink. pet scans of internet savvy people are different than those who are not. and te same is happening again with the infusion of surround communication. "work to do?" what work? what organisms do is respond to stimuli in ways that work or do not.
    what point is there in a fax? it took 60-100 years before it was integrated as a "reality" and another 3 years to become environment.
    twitter, et al...will probably be the same.
    • if only imHo meant just that

      Technology 101. when presented with a new piece of tech ask the question what problem in my life will this solve. Social networking site solve nothing, they only create problems. they have a neat feedback system that keeps you checking back more and more often, but ultimately they will prove to cowpats in the field of communication.
      then again I have been saying similar about 'reality TV' for years.....
    • some questions

      The first two questions are for you to answer Gabby. The rest is targeted towards everybody.

      Do you know what a PET scan is and what it measures? As a layman, it seems to me that all the PET scan is saying is that IM'ing stimulates different parts of our brain or different parts react differently. I'll bet cigs stimulate a different part of the brain than a carrot. Does the fact they are different mean it is better or even ok?

      How long did it take before the political impact of the nuclear bomb became a reality?

      Work sometimes is facilitated with social networking and other times work is impaired. Why be so biased for or against it?

      There are social networks that facilitate meeting people face-to-face ( yet it is a social network.

      During some fires in SoCal I saw twitter being used to potentially save peoples lives. It can be overdone, but it can be useful.

      How much time are people spending shredding paper with the information given freely online?

      I can resist the desire to fit in the crowd and do what everybody else is doing, but I'm being "bombarded" with the idea that I can market my services efficiently with twitter. As of yet it makes no sense to me. But isn't trying Twitter the same as trying a paper ad worded differently?
      Dave Keays
  • RE: Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

    Just remember, these modern information diversions can be dangerous.
    I could start a Facebook page or Twitter you, but them I would have to kill you! :)
  • Who has time?

    If you checked your email, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter once
    an hour, you'd end up with about 15 minutes per hour to work. I
    prefer relationships over technology. Whatever happened to just
    TALKING to people?
    Catena Creations
  • RE: Adult Attention Disorder: The 'Splittering' of Communications

    I'm aware of and don't like the distractions these sites provide. However, what am I doing right now? I'm socializing, spending time, distracted from the task at hand and leaving this message for others to read regarding this article about 'splittering', who probably have something more important to do then read what I have to say! How Ironic ... or what's the word? Sorry!
  • If only they could all synchronize?

    Currently, I browse Facebook and maybe put something in there. Mostly, I just use a feature I found on Facebook to pull my entries from another blog I maintain and put that in my notes. Since the notes can be a bit longer than just a short thought, I find this useful too. It feels like I can actually say what I am thinking rather than just looking for a quick soundbyte. I actually have another blog where some of my other friends post and read, so I just copy and paste anything in blog #1 over to blog #2. In my "dream world," I would actually be able to enter everything once and have it populate between all three. Then, wouldn't it be nice if in that same place I could review all the new content that interested me from all three too (all that stuff I read to find out what my friends and family are up to)? Currently, I check Facebook and those blogs maybe once or twice a day.
  • Turn them off

    The easiest way to stop Twitter and Facebook from
    interfering with your work and social life is just to stop using
    them. At the very least, just switch them off while you're
    trying to get productive work done.

    Basic time management technique here - you dictate what's
    important, not "them".

  • Just say no

    I just say no to all these things. Can't suck down your time if you don't
  • Communication overload can indeed cause Adult Attention Disorder:


    Attention Disorder (ADHD)is not a genetic psychiatric disorder - not some kind of "madness".

    Recent research indicates that it is a brain stress disorder and that it can be improved considerably by reducing the stress level. The symptoms of ADHD are exactly identical with high brain stress symptoms - concentration and attention difficulties, restless, irritability, emotional instability, anxiety.

    Therefore, anything that increases brain stress, including a too high information input level can cause an increase of ADHD symptoms in the brain.

    What you can do:

    1. Cut down the information input to a comfortable level.
    2. Increase your stress tolerance. This sounds easy, but in reality it has been so difficult that scientists have believed there is a genetic factor here. But recent research shows it is really possible to improve with a simple technique.

    Dr. Sarina Grosswald recently investigated the effect of a specific simple mental technique on ADHD cases regarding brain stress level and brain integration. After only four month the stress level was reduced by 50% and the brain integration had increased considerably compared to controls. See video about it with Dr. Grosswald at

    The technique used was Transcendental Meditation (TM) which has a unique and well documented ability to permanently reduce the level of stress and to improve brain integration.

    The uniqueness of the stress-reducing effect of TM was confirmed by Professor James W Anderson at the Kentucky University. He made a meta-analysis where he looked for all studies on the effect of mental techniques on chronic stress, including relaxation response, biofeedback, stress management, different meditations and TM. The chronic stress measure was blood pressure. He found that TM was the only technique among all researched techniques that had a significant lowering effect on the blood pressure. This means it was the only among said mental techniques that really lowered the level of stress.See NBC video:

    Because of its promising results, the US National Institute of Health has sponsored several TM research studies with altogether 24 million USD.

    So TM appears to be a scientifically validated solution for increasing your ability to handle the stressful impact of information overload. Brain research shows that it trains the brain to work in a more effective and coherent way.

    I have done it since over 30 years and it has increased my working capacity tremendously along with a great improvement of my stress tolerance - I don't get stressed any more even under very stressful conditions.

    For more, see: and
    • it is not curable

      its treatable. there is a difference. you spout off a lot of crap in that post, but you are linking very biased sources, and are flat out wrong in your opening sentence that you also happened to CAPS LOCK!