A Downside to Social NETworking?

Dan Pontefract recently wrote a post on his blog about “notification addiction.” He set up the following scenario: You are in a face-to-face meeting making a point, and just as you are about to ask a question, most of the other people in your meeting pull out a device to check in with the rest of the world. Once you ask your question, nobody knows the answer because they weren’t listening. He went on to report that the average worker loses 28% of their day to distractions.

When I thought about how this applied to me, I could see what Dan was talking about. As a student pursuing a Master of Digital Marketing, it should come as no surprise that most of my classmates and I, are very active on a number of social networks. Being so, we feel the need to check throughout the day to see “what we are missing” even when we are sitting in lecture. Sometimes when our professor asks a question, we have to ask him to repeat it because we were preoccupied.

Sounds bad, right?

But when you flip that coin upside down, you will see the benefit to being distracted. (That’s right, I said benefit.) Often when our professor is speaking, the other students in the class and I, are literally chatting with each other. In the olden days, this would be done through passing notes, but technology has given us the opportunity to do it silently and more efficiently. Instead of waiting for people to read the notes and have a 1 on 1 conversation, I can post a comment about what the professor is talking about on Twitter, and immediately my classmates and I can have a discussion in real time about what the professor is teaching. (Sure, we aren’t ALWAYS discussing what he’s talking about, but it happens more frequently than you’d think.)

Or, consider this. My professor makes a point that I find interesting or asks a question that stumps me. I can post this on Facebook and facilitate a discussion with people who aren’t even in the classroom with me. This enhances my classroom experience because I can get a new perspective other than the 40 or so people who I see in class every day.

At the workplace, the same ideas can be applied. In my last job, it was very common for people to have their phones out during a meeting, From time to time, it was appropriate to check your email, or reply to a text message. Because let’s face it, you don’t always NEED to be listening (or maybe even sitting in that meeting at all.) Sometimes, we get pulled into meetings that aren’t relevant to us. Being required to sit in that physical space actually might be distracting us from our work more than our phones or other devices are. Sure, we may lose some work productivity by hopping on a social network maybe more than we should, but often we lose even more productivity by not being allowed to connect to our digital networks.

What do you think? Are there two sides to Social Workplace distractions?

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