How long does it take you to count from 1 to 10?
On average, this recitation requires roughly 1.5 seconds of time, as does listing letters A through J of the alphabet.
But when you pair the numbers and letters together, as the audience at TechFest NW did Tuesday morning, cognitive multitasking slows everything down. The audience took more than 10 seconds to recite the sequence aloud.
This, according to Strategic Business Insights consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, illustrates how staying "plugged in" through digital and social mediums can cripple a person's attention and a company's productivity.
Pang talked about the anxieties that emerge from the flurry of new technologies and social-media platforms—especially the constant fear of missing out on some information, whether it is an email memo or a picture on Instagram.
Most people have experienced what Pang calls the Phantom Cell Phone Syndrome: imagining the ring of your own cell phone when it hasn't actually gone off.
Pang argued that digital channels and social applications are overloading the mind's ability to multitask. Rather that using them as tools to encourage our cognitive flow, people allow them to become extensions of their own bodies, constantly pulling their attention in a new direction.
"I want to figure out how we can become more aware of how they act on us, so that we can act back," Pang said. He has written two books on the subject, The Distraction Addiction and Room, and he offered practical advice on how to confront the distraction of technology from work and personal life.
Pang suggests setting a separate ringtone for speed dial callers that need to be immediately answered, thus allowing you to keep focus through an inundation of less urgent calls.
"I've realized there is a perfect correlation between how senior of a position a person is and how few people are allowed to call them," Pang said.
Pang also praises the companies that require their employees to spend certain amounts of time unplugged, and will shut down their servers for certain amounts of time to do so.
"People with great ability to take their hands off the cognitive wheel are the people who can then best focus," Pang said.
Letting your mind wander, Pang said, pairs nicely with finding time to meditate on singular thoughts, without distraction. He suggested this practice above all else to the audience of TechFestNW.
"It reminds you what paying attention even feels like."