The maximum attention span is 15 minutes. Now, remember how long your classes and work sessions are. 1–2–4–8 hours? Well, after 10–15 minutes in your performance decreases drastically because your brain starts getting distracted and tired.
People can’t manage to stay focused in person when everyone is watching them from all angles. What can we expect in the remote work era?
Here are some statistics:
91% of employees daydreamed during their meetings.
92% of employees find themselves multitasking during meetings.
41% of respondents confess that they often multitask or all the time during a meeting.
Most meetings were useless anyway. Some people reported that they spend 40% of their time at work attending meetings. 67% stated that meetings distract them from being productive and making progress.
The good thing is, hours spent in meetings per week have dropped since the start of remote work. The situation is not ideal, yet can be handled.
And we have a bigger fish to fry. Sorry, Doris.
While companies were able to cut down their meetings, universities and schools can’t do the same.
Time spend on Zoom reaches 8 hours a day for students
How are you supposed to stay tuned for so long? How can teachers oversee how involved their students are?
The statistics on distractions are even worse for teenagers compared to adults. Many pull out their phones and watch TikToks, some don’t even bother turning on a camera. Add to that outside distractions like having parents and siblings around.
Universities were losing value already, and with COVID-19 they seem to have even bigger problems. They turned into streaming services.
So the question is:
How do we go from this…
not paying attention during Zoom classes/meetings
working non-stop and ignoring all distractions(almost)
There is technology available to eliminate the problem of poor focus. With the rise of brain-computer interfaces, many devices with the goal to increase concentration are being developed.
BCI records neural activity from the brain and communicates it with the computer(PC, laptop, smartphone, etc).
One of the companies working on this is Neurable Inc. They are integrating a micro-EEG into the headphones. The EEG will determine whether the subject is focused or distracted to help them get back on track(or simply collect their neural data).
EEG is a non-invasive solution that allows record brain activity. Your brain uses neurons to communicate within itself 24/7. When neurons are communicating, they are generating electrical current. EEG is only able to pick up strong signals from clusters of neurons — the individual signal shatters as it goes through the skull. The EEG picks up signals with the use of electrodes — metal disks that are usually placed on the scalp.
Neurable is taking a different approach by taking EEGs outside the labs.
They are making headphones that are normally used during Zoom meetings. The Neurable version looks and feels absolutely normal. Except it’s not because it can track your neural activity.
There are different frequencies all around us — in fact, everything has a frequency. Even our brain. Frequencies in our brain are referred to as brainwaves. They range between 0.5–500 Hz.
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time.
We categorize brainwaves(brain frequencies into 5 groups):
a state of superconscientiousness
Hardly ever happens, doesn’t last for long —usually 0.5 seconds. Here, the inside imaginative world becomes more real than the outside world.
It’s more common in masters of meditation. In the average human, it doesn’t last.
average frequencies for humans, performing day-to-day tasks, and learning
When you are receiving new information and you're alert — you must be in beta. It’s normal to be in beta during classes(that are not too boring).
High beta is a state where we can’t control ourselves — we might get furious and our mind gets blurry.
daydreaming or reflecting, relaxed or asleep
When you sit in a lecture, you’re in beta. But when you want to learn something — your mind switched to alpha where you start adopting information for yourself — reflecting. Attention to the outside world declines.
In the alpha state, people get creative.
Brain gets ready to consume information tomorrow.
Your brain retains information from yesterday.
That’s why sleep is so important! — me at 10pm writing this article.
EEG headset can measure the type of a brainwave, therefore, it can determine which state you’re in. If you’re not focusing, it will know.
That being said, brainwaves can be controlled. Research shows that the brain tends to copy frequencies from the outside. To illustrate, when you listen to music, your brain syncs with music.
Main takeaways by now:
- You can manipulate states of the brain — frequencies in the brain/brainwaves — by stimulating the brain with any desired frequency. (It doesn’t have to be sound — lights and electromagnetic fields will work too)
- You can measure brain activity — including concentration level — by using an EEG.
- People are bad at paying attention during long periods of time. They can fully concentrate for 10–15 minutes only.
Time to address the elephant in the room —
— poor concentration. What can you do about it? With BCIs?
Let’s continue with the remote school/work case and Neurable.
People normally wear headphones during classes and meetings so getting people to wear Neurable’s headsets won’t be a problem(only ethical). It’s not like they’ve built an ugly EEG cap for consumer use.
There are many applications, and I would like to focus on raising concentration during online classes.
What it can do:
- Measure the focus level of each attendee during the meeting and send statistics to the meeting host.
- It can give suggestions on who to call out next based on engagement level. This will also motivate students to pay attention.
- Send notifications when she/he is tuning out to the attendee. Sometimes you get distracted without noticing and you just need a ping.
- Send notifications to the host when an employee/a student has been ‘out’ for too long(ex. ~5 minutes).
- Give statistics on when the average attention level has been the lowest/highest for improvement.
There are companies that have been selling this solution to China — but for traditional offline schools. They are using BCIs to track how involved children are.
For our case with remote work — is this ethical? I think it is when students get to choose which headphones to wear. After all, students are the ones who benefit the most because the system is being adopted for their needs — and their need is to increase focus during class. Many students have been falling behind because of the remote school. We might not see that in the official statistics — the exams are simplified to support young people so grades are not dropping(when the level of knowledge is).
Minerva University, which is a top online university, has been doing something similar but with fewer data available. They don’t use EEGs, they use machine learning algorithms to track every move of their students and professors — analyze camera images and sounds. With other schools going online, they sold the tech to multiple elite colleges all over the country.
I think they would benefit from another vital datapoint — brain activity. So would the remote companies and programs.
It is only one of many applications of this amazing product.