The Hierarchy Of Digital Distractions

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions

I notice these days that I can spend hours at my computer, in a cloud. A swampy blur of digital activity, smeared across various activities and media and software.

Emailing, writing, tweeting, designing, browsing, taking calls, Skyping, Facebooking, RSS Feeding – all blurred into a single technological trance.

I seem to switch randomly from one to the other. But actually is there a subtle hierarchy in this cloud? Do I prefer some distractions over others? I think so.

The Cloud

In this diagram, each level in this hierarchy trumps the next.

So, if you get a new msg on Facebook, but your landline rings, you’l take the landline call. You might have a spasmodic moment of ‘uh? wadd I do’. But, usually, you’ll take the call.

Similarly, if you get a new SMS whilst opening a new online dating message, you’ll be hard pressed not to read that SMS. It’ll take a great force of will. You may attempt to do both simultaneously. But if you really observe yourself closely, one will take priority – even if it’s only by milliseconds. The SMS will win your attention.

And so on up the chart…

(I understand this post reveals much about my pitiful life. There’s no need to say that in the comments, thanks.)

But if I’ve missed any distractions, feel free to suggest them. I realise AIM and MS Messenger introduce a whole universe of distraction. I don’t go there. I have enough distractions.

NEW: This image now appears in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Order a gorgeous A3 risograph print on 250gsm recycled art paper.

Books and Store

Our Beautiful Books - Information is Beautiful Information is Beautiful Store

Show Comments ( )

  • http://www.TheWeeklyBlend.com Mitch

    The irony being that the link to this article was tweeted to me from my wife and now I’m looking at it while at work.

  • Brendan

    I think you should add “This Site” somewhere in your hierarchy.
    Information IS Beautiful!

  • http://www.designtank.ws Chris Raymond

    I love much of your work, but I’m afraid I find this chart impossible to understand. Multiple items in each “row” and arrows that saying trumping. But what of those multiple items in each row “trumps” what in the next row? And the widest row is getting work done, but actually, that should be visually the smallest, shouldn’t it? All these things are distracting you from work, so it seems to me like the Actual Work should be the tiny point of the pyramid.

    I think you were trying to do way too much in this one. But perhaps all my distractions have addled my brain!

  • Joaquin

    Nice pyramid
    I’d bet is quite accurate but it is just a joke or is it based on real data? I’m curious.

  • Nasher_87 (ARG)

    This good man, but you have zero objectivity, on top of the pyramid changes “iPhone” by Cellphone or Smartphone. If you have one, does not mean that everyone has.

  • Kat

    Where’s StumbleUpon in this pyramid? That’s the only thing that really distracts me, especially for hours upon end.

  • Israel

    Ain’t that the truth!

  • Jack

    Wikipedia?

  • Matt

    But the graphic doesn’t include looking at all the graphics on the Information is Beautiful site, which trumps most of the other stuff…