Beyond Distraction: Finding Focus in a Digital Landscape

Most of what we do relies on digital technology, whether it’s to work, stay in touch with family and friends, or order takeout. And while we agree these technologies are very useful and fun, they also have a never-ending appetite for our attention to keep us engaged. For example, when we’re trying to focus on the task at hand – researching a topic, studying for a test, completing a grant application – inevitably, an email, text, news flash pops up and we dutifully give it our attention. There are other distractions, too, like the steady waves of online information we receive and sift through that can sap our time and energy.  

The concept “tech addiction” has been debated both in the media and academic research with some people recommending short term remedies that include digital cleanses or deleting accounts to curb it. But researcher Jesper Aagaard argues we are not addicted and points out these are habits we have developed that can be managed. So, when we casually resign to being addicted to our favorite app, it may help to keep in mind Aagaard’s point that we have a choice. He and others suggest we can develop intentional tech habits to reclaim our focus and complete the task at hand starting with a few simple changes:  

  • Mindfulness: Work on staying fully in the present and aware of your actions while online. Too often we unconsciously gravitate to our fav app and 30 minutes later we’re down the rabbit hole. Take time to consciously observe your activity without judgement to help you understand your tech habits.  
  • Plan focused time: Close your digital door by pausing notifications. Taking that extra step will help you get some uninterrupted focus even if it’s for just an hour. 
  • Easy does it: Give yourself and others some slack by not expecting an instant reply.  
  • Be informed: Applications like social media are designed to keep you engaged and understanding how it works will help you keep it in check.  
  • Braintrust: When researching a topic, you can count on libraries to point you to trusted sources and help you avoid fruitless searches online. 
  • Reward yourself: After you’ve put in some focused study, research, or writing, pat yourself on the back and enjoy your favorite digital getaway. 

Even just incorporating one of these changes can make a huge difference in our ability to manage the digital landscape around us and focus our attention. Let us know in the comments which change you would like to try or additional recommendations for finding focus.  

Tara Carlisle  
Director, I-Know/Digital Information Literacy


#125: The Transformational Benefits of Intentional Technology Use with Jonathan Garner. 5 Apr. 2021., 

Aagaard, J. Beyond the rhetoric of tech addiction: why we should be discussing tech habits instead (and how). Phenom Cogn Sci 20, 559–572 (2021). 

Menczer, Filippo. “How ‘Engagement’ Makes You Vulnerable to Manipulation and Misinformation on Social Media.” The Conversation: Science + Technology Sep 10 2021 ProQuest. 8 Feb. 2022.