Since the beginning of time, the human experience has constantly been evolving. Over the last few decades, technology has been the fundamental driver of this change, transforming nearly every aspect of daily life in unprecedented speed. Used to streamline, enhance, and totally revamp processes across the industrial spectrum, its presence is appearing ever more frequently, and its demand of our limited attention is greater than ever. At what point does the ubiquity of these innovations become a problem, and what can we do to alleviate this?
Human Instinct and the Dangers of Distraction
Technology, by design, exploits our human instincts. We impulsively switch attention at any sort of sort of stimuli – a survival instinct geared towards sensing danger. These ‘bottom-up’ stimuli of unexpected, sudden instances always take priority on a biological level and ignore our ‘top-down’ mental application focused on specific tasks. Technology, such as smartphones and smartwatches, deliberately use small buzzes, pings, and flashes of light in order to draw attention. Even the process of actively ignoring these stimuli draws exertion away from the brain, causing a loss of concentration. One study found that it took on average 25 minutes for IT workers to resume a project after being interrupted. This is clearly a big problem.
“At our very foundation” says cognitive neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, “humans are information-seeking creatures”.With perpetually updating material available to us in our pockets, any reprieve from work to check our phones often hinders our mental activities across the board. “There’s a conflict between what we want to do and what we’re actually capable of doing,” Gazzaley says. “With each switch [of our attention from one task to another], there’s a cost”. In 2005, research carried out by Dr. Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that consistent distractions at work had a distinct effect: those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ and these interruptions can have the same effect on someone losing a night of sleep.
A 2017 study found that on-the-job smartphone time cost companies $15 billion a week in lost productivity. “Attention is more under siege than it ever has been before” said Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.
There is a difference, however, between losing productivity with lapses of concentration while checking e-mails, versus losing focus while driving, especially heavy-goods vehicles, that can lead up to a fatal accident. Texting while driving causes over 300,000 crashes each year, while the number of deaths in the USA from large truck crashes was 31% higher in 2018 than in 2009. With the size of the vehicles involved, any accident will affect all other road users or pedestrians in the vicinity: as can be seen from the Figure 1 (below), the majority of casualties in large truck crashes aren’t the truck drivers themselves but other road users, predominantly the drivers and passengers of other cars (69%), with truck drivers only just outweighing pedestrians and cyclists.
Furthermore, the constant shifting of attention between working and checking notifications can lead to high levels of stress and frustration. Incessant immersion in your devices has been associated with diminished cognitive control, higher levels of impulsivity and weaker performance in the areas of the brain linked with error detection and emotional regulation. This kind of always-on behavior is also harmful to long-term mental health.
Fatigue is also a critical consequence here. As well as issues with technology and always-on behavior, the national officer for Unite (the largest trade union in the UK), Adrian Jones, has discussed the effect that increasingly long working hours and ever-changing shift patterns have on exhaustion. One can only imagine the effect that COVID-19 has had on these issues. Factors such as shift-patterns will be heightened considerably with the unpredictability of positive test results and personal issues. This comes at a time of increased demand across the board for delivery services, as many people are shunning physical stores in order to minimize the spread of the virus.
Boosting Awareness in a Distracted World
Paradoxically, the antidote to the ailments of technological disruptions may well appear to be an investment in further technology. With the VIA Mobile360 Series, we employ leading AI technology to help drivers and fleet managers stay focused on the job, enhancing driver safety and minimizing the risk of an accident.
The most important tool we have developed for reducing driver distractions is the VIA Mobile360 DMS (Driver Monitoring System). This sophisticated AI algorithm monitors behavior and alerts drivers when they show signs of tiredness or inattentiveness, minimizing the risk of accidents and boosting focus. It can also identify potentially dangerous or illegal actions such as using a phone or smoking.
All VIA Mobile360 in-vehicle systems feature the DMS. To alert drivers of potential dangers in the front and rear of their vehicle in time to avert an accident, the systems also support ADAS features such as LDW (Lane Departure Warning) and FCW (Forward Collision Warning) in flexible configurations for different usage requirements. To further boost drivers’ awareness of what is happening around their vehicle, panoramic SVS (Surround View System) technology is also available.
As the demands on drivers’ attention continue to accelerate at an unprecedented rate, the need for investments in AI-powered driver assistance technology has never been more critical. The benefits not only include increasing productivity but also extend to saving human lives.
Written by Stan Buckley, PR, Social Media Marketing and Marketing Communications intern at VIA and a Business Studies graduate from Lancaster University.