Staying focused is incredibly difficult, and it’s getting even harder. I just got a new iPhone 6 because of the incredible amount of storage space it has, and holy smokes, there are so many apps that make photos into gifs and 3d landscapes, apps that ”improve” task management (ideally), and empower you to “learn” a new skill in minutes a day, not to mention all the social media apps that are now required for any new startup to stay engaged with the digital storm of the 21st century.
The digital world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, all of which can be effortlessly accessed through a tiny screen in our pockets. How crazy is that? In the digital explosion of the last decade, there still seems to be no clear way for us to balance digital consumption with the rest of our lives. Our email and Facebook notifications constantly remind us to go back into the digital space.
There are a lot of amazing things coming from the global digitalization, like Pokemon Go, portable Netflix, and on-demand transportation services. Snapchat even has amazing facial recognition software that can put a Lady Gaga wig on your head or make you puke rainbows when you open your mouth. Obviously some technological innovations are more important than others, so how do we decide what to allocate focus to?
What does Millennial Focus mean?
The meaning of focus will vary for all of us, from generation to generation and from person to person. To me it is being able to sit down and finish my task list. To some, it may be sitting down for half an hour without looking at a phone, or being present throughout the length of an entire conversation. Regardless, the irony is that our focus seems to be more intense digitally than in “reality.”
We are so determined to catch up on our Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin feeds, that we forget about what we were talking about with the real humans around us as we try to catch a Pokemon or write a clever post. This trend of distraction is blatant across the millennial generation.
It makes sense. My generation has been engaged with the digital world from day one. And all the crazy innovations in that space has caused the huge side effect of distraction.
Generation X was different. They were completely unplugged from the digital tornado. Although they were rebellious, rock and roll crazed, sexually liberal badasses, they didn’t walk around pulling their cassette tape players out of their pockets every 2 minutes to check their Facebook feed.
This lack of focus has some definite effects on our behavior, space, and attitude for both millennials and older generations.
The Digital-Driven Psychological Change
Schools have been using tablets and laptops now for years and that has affected how we use digital resources in our professional human interactions. We all have seen people instinctively reach for their phone in socially akward situations, use them as a shield at the dinner table to avoid conversations, or use it as an tool to solve a complex professional problem. Managers, professors, and mentors have had to significantly change their workflow. Companies are forced to accept this reality and incorporate different concepts of working into the workplace.
Changes in behavior have led to changes in attitude. The instant feedback of technology can lead to the infamous “millennial privilege.” If we spend the majority of our day digitally, we start to expect the same LTE-fast speeds in our reality. Our focus in life shifts from “sticking it out” to “high expectations of instant feedback and gratification.” Now when we are unhappy with our working environment, we are quick to make a change to fix it. This is why when I browse my LinkedIn, I see sporadic work histories from people my own age as opposed to the steadfast work histories from the generation above me.
Our spaces have also been affected. We carry the digital world in a small, hand sized, mini computer everywhere. There really is no demarcation between “digital” and “reality.” We can jump in whenever we like. Many millennials see this as a constant fact. At this point, we all have seen tensions arise between people with this millennial view and those with more clearly defined rules for when phone use is allowed. And the latter seems to be continually losing support.
As a millennial entrepreneur, I can completely relate to all three. Traditional fields like finance, consulting, and government work seem to be resistant to adapting their workplace cultures to the millennial concept of focus. We will use our phones at our desk. We will take mental breaks. We will wander off for short walks to meditate or do yoga. We may leave work early. But at the end of the day, we will complete our tasks, just in our own way.