By Andrea Romano
January 14, 2019
Alex Maxim/Getty Images

Take a look at the top of your browser. What do you see?

If you see maybe one or two or even just a handful of essential tabs open: Congratulations! You’ve clearly achieved some sort of Marie Kondo-like serenity. We’re very proud and very jealous of you.

But if you’re like the other 99 percent of us, you probably have somewhere around 50 plus tabs of random webpages open.

Sure, you’ve got the essentials: your email, your Google Drive, your social media. But you also have dozens of websites you’ve visited once or twice and decided to save “just in case.” That random article on getting your finances in order. That news report you meant to read yesterday. That internet list about cute puppies. A shopping site for a pair of shoes you’ve been waiting to go on sale. A random Keto recipe you’ve totally been meaning to try. And everything in between. We just can’t seem to click that little “X” and be rid of these tabs once and for all (or, internet forbid, organize them in a Bookmarks folder).

So, why do we have so many tabs open at all times? According to Ellen Scott of Metro, it’s a sort of multi-tasking called “task switching.”

When we task switch, it’s like “protection against boredom,” says Metro. We use multiple tabs to satiate all our different needs and whims, from everything like our more productive, work life to our need for fun. So, this is why you probably have internet quizzes up in a tab next to your work email.

However, there’s a big drawback of task switching. “People tend to believe they’re good at multi-tasking, that they really can pay attention to multiple things at once and get a load of work done. But that isn’t the case,” Scott says. Instead of multi-tasking, we should instead be focusing on one thing in order to get better results.

“Having lots of tabs open can potentially result in information overload...and rather than creating efficiency, switching frequently between tasks may lead to short attention spans and a lack of depth in the ongoing tasks,” Dr Daria Kuss, the course leader of Cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University, told Metro.

Think about it: You’re sitting at work, writing an email to your boss. Then, a notification pops up. You check it. Then a different one pops up. Then another. Then another. Suddenly, you realize it’s taken you over half an hour or more to write a simple work email when it should’ve taken you five. This is the danger of the tabs.

“People are scared of missing out on any information so keep tabs open. It is a case of 'I might miss something' if I close a tab,” said Professor Mike Berry, a psychologist at Birmingham City University, to Metro.

But how do we combat this internet FOMO and conquer the tabs? Well, the first thing is to accept that our computers, much like our own brains, have limitations.

“We treat our computers as if they have an unlimited capacity, just like we treat our brain. But when we overload our brain, we become tired, forgetful, irritable. When we overload tabs, the page slows down, and the computer/phone may be less efficient,” Marc Hekster, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at The Summit Clinic, told Metro.

Of course, says Scott, you don’t need to get rid of all your tabs in order to break this habit. Many people keep a few tabs open in order to quick reference the few things they need to stay productive during the day. After all, who wants to close and open a new window every time they need to fact check something or respond to an email?

The only thing to be wary about is whether you’re keeping tabs open to be efficient or keeping them open as a distraction. No one can focus on or remember 1000 things at once, so why should your computer browser?

Go ahead, take a breath, and click that “X.”

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