Our Wired Worlds

Distracted Living

Why are so many of us moving through life staring at our screens?

by Mark Breading

Mr. Breading is a partner with Strategy Meets Action, an insurance research and consulting firm. Reprinted with permission. Visit here.

One important trend in society over the past decade is our increasing ability to create and consume a seemingly unlimited amount of digital content. Whether the content is for information, entertainment, or commerce, the result is that most people are staring at screens of various sizes and swiping, typing, pinching, voice-commanding, or interacting with the content in some other way.

The services and our ability to communicate and conduct business has had a major impact on society in general, impacting virtually every segment of our world. While there are many good and positive outcomes emanating from the digital world, there are also negative consequences. One of those is the increase in what I call distracted living.

Distracted Driving
Distracted driving, a well-known phenomenon, has major negative implications for insurers and society. The “need” to send text messages, participate in phone calls, do web searches, and interact with the vehicles navigation/entertainment system all take attention away from driving. Insurers are painfully aware of this problem, as it has caused a spike in accidents in recent years.

But this is not the only type of distraction that can cause problems. Examples of distracted living that can be just as harmful or even dangerous include:

Pedestrian accidents
There are many cases of pedestrians walking into traffic, bumping into buildings, or falling into fountains due to their rapt attention to content on their smartphones. While YouTube is filled with funny videos of incidents involving the oblivious people, serious accidents have resulted as well.

Lost productivity at work
Many studies have been conducted on employees’ use of social media and other Internet services during work hours. Although many companies have policies to limit usage, it is still a serious problem for employers.

Workplace accidents
It is one thing for employees to surf the web, text, or watch sports highlight videos while at their desks, but quite another when employees on the move at worksites are staring at a screen. Imagine employees who become distracted on constructions sites, in factories with dangerous chemicals, or while operating machines. It is easy to see how more workplace accidents can happen.

Operators in public transportation
Drivers of trains, planes, ships, streetcars, buses, and other types of public transportation must keep their complete attention focused on the task at hand. Yet, there have already been cases of accidents caused by operators that were distracted.

Mental health issues
Social media has been a positive force for many individuals, fostering community and connection. But for others, the social media world may result in frayed personal relationships, obsessions, or may lead to mental health issues.

These are but a few examples of how the easy availability of digital content takes our attention away from important activities. Although many of these are insignificant from an actuarial standpoint for insurers (besides distracted driving), distracted living is still a cause for concern and a trend that the industry should continue to monitor.