In 2006, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman described the modern era as “the age of distraction” because of the widespread use of the variety of media then available. Since that time there has been an explosion of mobile computing devices that allow and encourage us to stay connected and online wherever and whenever we like. By 2012, 88% of adults in the U.S. owned cell phones, and 53% of those were smartphones (Smith, 2012). The use of media devices has become a core part of many people’s daily experience. In a study on the everyday experiences of self-control and its failure, the impulse to use media was hardest for people to resist, more difficult than resisting unwanted urges for eating, alcohol, and sex (Hofmann, Baumeister, Förster, & Vohs, 2012).
In this paper, we examine how multitasking with media affects users' performance in different domains (e.g., driving, walking, work, and academic pursuits). We then review research that addresses the question of why media multitasking is related to distraction, distractibility and impulsivity. We examine historical research on media and distractibility and review cognitive and neuropsychological research on the effects of divided attention. Finally, we explore how high levels of media multitasking might alter our general responses to experience in ways that are marked by changes in distractibility and impulsivity.