Even When Powered Off, That Phone Is Still Distracting You

Last month I wrote about the boss who lost it and banned smartphones from meetings. It struck a nerve with me, and with a lot of other people. Since that story ran in the Wall Street Journal, the topic has been covered on LinkedIn, in Forbes, and probably around countless water coolers too. (And undoubtedly read on … you guessed it …smartphones.)

The upshot of the story is that smartphones are incredibly distracting. We check them thousands of times a day, and they take our attention away from the present moment and the people and experiences that are right in front of us. Just having your phone nearby is enough to drop your productivity and decrease your mental acuity.

The solution should be simple then – turn off your phone when you need to think, work, produce. Yet it’s not that simple, according to Robinson Meyer in the Atlantic.

“A smartphone can tax its user’s cognition simply by sitting next to them on a table, or being anywhere in the same room with them, suggests a study published recently in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research,” Meyer writes. “It finds that a smartphone can demand its user’s attention even when the person isn’t using it or consciously thinking about it. Even if a phone’s out of sight in a bag, even if it’s set to silent, even if it’s powered off, its mere presence will reduce someone’s working memory and problem-solving skills.”


Just being in the presence of this device will make us dumber, basically, less able to employ critical thinking to solve the challenges of the day. And the study suggests that the more you rely on your smartphone, the greater the effects will be when it’s turned off.

It’s as if our phones have become indispensable parts of our functioning brains. And give the vast volume of drivel that pours out of those devices every day, that’s a truly sobering thought.

If you are among the millions of people who say they can’t get through the day without their phones, it might be time for a wake-up call.  Our technology is actively changing the way we function, and not for the better.

It’s time to loosen up that tether, my friends.