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Smartphones and productivity: Focusing your inner data

A boy and girl using their smartphone together in class to complete an assignment.
A boy and girl using their smartphone together in class to complete an assignment.

Smartphones are often praised for their ability to help people communicate with others across long distances. While on the other hand, they are ridiculed for having negative impacts on attention and thus productivity. Research overwhelmingly supports the negative impacts of mobile phones on our daily productivity in the classroom and work place, but is this a realistic picture?

Smartphones allow users to look up information and socialize more frequently than in the past because of their accessibility and connection the internet (e.g., 3G, 4G, wireless). People’s social needs (e.g., expression, affection, bonding) and fast accessibility to social networks and social media create opportunities for distraction. Consequently, our data usage is ever expanding.

Mobile phone service providers have begun to limit data bandwidth in many ways in response to this phenomenon, but not to increase people’s productivity. They do it to save money. Teachers, managers, and the like continue to struggle with this dilemma.

The negative effects on attention and productivity from smartphone use are well documented, but the same cannot be said for the positive effects. Many scholars argue that multitasking with a smartphone in the classroom or during work divides the user’s attention. However, how attention is given, why it is given, and what it is given to depends on the social context of the situation. Were these studies conducted in a social vacuum? Perhaps.

It took a while for all the negative hype about cell phones and smartphones in the classroom and work place to subside. The hype blinded us and made it hard for researchers look at how teachers and businesses can use smartphones to increase productivity. Creating the right environment for this to happen has been difficult.

Researchers now suggest that instead of banning smartphone use altogether in the classroom or work place that those in charge encourage smartphones to be used to provide information, spark creativity, or a serve as a platform for group activities. Creating an environment where smartphones are seen as a productivity tool rather than a social device can boost productivity. Much like a desktop or laptop computer the smartphone can boost productivity if used wisely.

The implications of smartphones are endless. With the advent of some exploratory and suggestive studies, it is only a matter of time until researchers scientifically show there are concrete ways people can focus their inner data to become more productive.

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