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The Interruption Economy

The Interruption Economy

    Q: What do Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Samsung all have in common?

    A: Their business models involve interrupting you all day long.

    Individually, each company’s interruptions are trivial. You can easily ignore them. But cumulatively, the interruptions from these and other companies can be crippling.

    In the economy of the past, companies made money by being useful to customers. Now the biggest tech companies make their money by distracting you with ads and apps and notifications and whatnot. I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, but I think this is the reason 80% of the adults I know are medicating. People are literally being driven crazy by a combination of complexity (too many choices) and the Interruption Economy.

    There are days when my brain is flying in so many directions that I have to literally chant aloud what I need to do next in order to focus. Here’s what that can look like.

    Me chanting:

    Find the file, find the file, find the file, find the file.

    Open the file, open the file, open the file

    Search for the keyword, search for the keyword, search for the keyword, search for the keyword

    copy the paragraph, copy the paragraph, copy the paragraph

    paste it into Word, paste it into Word, paste it into Word

    In the sixty seconds it might take to complete a simple task of finding and copying some text, I would normally have seven-to-ten important thoughts that have to be acted on right away. For example, I might remember an upcoming meeting I forgot to write down. If I interrupt my task to add it to my calendar, I will improve my odds of making it to the meeting. But if I let the diversion win, I will likely get diverted again and again by equally “urgent” tasks until I wake up in a corn field miles from home with a donkey, a toaster, and no memory of how it all happened.

    So, as a defense against distractions, I sometimes need to chant my current steps as I do them. And it helps me focus. 

    I’m wondering if you have as many distractions in your life. And if you do, can the chanting help you too? The next time you have a boring task that you know will be subject to lots of interruptions, try the chanting technique and let me know how it goes. It probably won’t cure your ADHD but it might help you ignore the tech industry’s distractions until you get your tasks done.

    Bonus question: The economy has evolved from “How can I help you?” to “How can I distract you?” Can that trend lead anywhere but mass mental illness? 

    My hypothesis, based on observation alone, is that the business model of the tech industry, with its complexity, glut of options, and continuous interruptions are literally driving people to mental illness.


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