Admit it, you’re a double-dipping double-screener, aren’t you? You can’t get through an episode of Game of Thrones or The Good Place without seizing your smartphone and scrolling through the latest posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter before your eyeballs are dragged back to the TV set by another devastating/satisfying murder on GoT or Ted Danson conjuring up yet more fake heaven in Good.
Many TV shows, such as Q&A, encourage us to double-screen, inviting us to join the now endless echo chambers of social-media applause and outrage. Which is cool, because we’re all media multitaskers these days, right? Actually, no: we’re just deluding ourselves. Multitasking, in its media and non-media forms, has been shown to be a myth. According to a raft of studies, all we’re doing is task-switching, reducing our concentration on both screen activities by up to 40 per cent as our scattered brains switch from one subject to another.
A UK survey revealed that two-thirds of people use another device while watching TV; there’s no reason to think Australia is much different. But while our supposedly shrinking attention spans have been the subject of much study, no one seems able to put a figure on how much they’ve shrunk. (A 2015 study claiming our ability to focus on any one thing is now just eight seconds has been widely dismissed.)
But the amount of time we’re spending on screens, and the relatively new phenomenon of double-screening, has many experts worried. Young people, so often seen with an iPhone earbud in one ear while they tap away on a laptop or other device, seem especially vulnerable to the attention-eroding effects of double-screening, because they’re already much more prone to distraction.