Jenn Hoffman, Phoenix-based CEO of The J Brand Group, should have been enjoying a relaxing vacation on the Cote d’Azur. Sipping champagne and nibbling on cheese at the stylish Louis XV restaurant, she was eagerly awaiting her starter, a poached Breton lobster. But then, poised next to the breadbasket, her BlackBerry came to life, and so did her technology addiction.
She lunged for it and swiftly tapped out a response “I’m so addicted to this device that I stopped mid-bite to rush to send a message. My BlackBerry runs my life,” Hoffman says.
She has a 24/7 technology habit, even checking messages from the bathroom, a Whistler ski lift and the pool. Her boyfriend calls her laptop (which she brings to bed every night) “the other man.”
You might not be fine dining or travelling on ski lifts but, are you constantly connected? If so, you are not alone.
Email, tablets, iPhones, laptops, and smartphones dominate us. Our uber-connected lives have made us virtually available at any time, at any place. With the internet in our pockets, we can take the office home or out and about with us and we struggle to “unplug” and take a real break from work.
We now spend more time communicating, reading and watching content online than we do sleeping every day!
The technology is seductive. We love it. We can conference call, Skype, chat to friends on the other side of the world and access research in the blink of an eye. Technology has democratised information in the same way that public libraries did all those years ago.
But, this constant connectivity comes at a price and is having a real impact on both our physical and mental health.
John O’Neill, director of addictions services for the Menninger Clinic in Houston says that ‘over-wired’ people are so focused on their gadgets they neglect relationships with other people.
“Technology can become more than a passing problem and more like an addiction”
He listed some danger signs: “You become irritable when you can’t use it. The Internet goes down and you lose your mind. You start to hide your use.”
He said he can see corollaries between drug and alcohol addiction and the way some people use technology.
So how is this constant connectivity and technology overload shaping us?
Well, the statistics are staggering but, looking around at people wandering down the street transfixed by their devices, maybe they’re not really that surprising.
On a personal level, heavy usage can really interfere with normal life. Most people check their phones every 61/2 minutes that’s 200 times a day with 33% admitting hiding from family and friends to check social media.
I find it particularly sad that 49% of people check their phones within five minutes of waking up and, in a poll carried out on New Yorkers, over 70% checked their emails before saying good morning to their spouses or partners!
It affects your organisation’s productivity as well.
The average employee checks 40 websites a day, switches activities 37 times an hour and changes tasks every two minutes. However, only 2% of people can actually multi-task without a decline in performance.
So, what’s that doing to your company’s output?
If we continue as we are how will society shape up in response to the ever increasing convenience of our devices and advances in technology?
Will we have a tier of society that’s been ‘raised by technology’ who’ve been influenced and folded by online content and advertising and who are incapable of deep thinking and forming their own decisions?
We can see this happening already.
Student ‘addiction’ to technology ‘similar to drug cravings’.
Withdrawal symptoms experienced by young people deprived of gadgets and technology is compared to those felt by drug addicts or smokers going “cold turkey“, a study has concluded.
The University of Maryland carried out a global experiment called ‘Unplugged’ in which they asked 19 – 24 year olds in twelve Universities to go without their devices for twenty four hours.
The vast majority could not comply; they simply couldn’t live without their devices.
They described feeling ‘anxious, restless, angry, frightened, withdrawn, aggressive’ and even ‘paranoid’.
The students themselves were stunned by the ferocity of their reactions to being offline even for a short period of time.
One of the reasons is that digital devices give us a ‘hit’ of dopamine in our brains in the same centre that rewards us for fulfilling biological needs – such as sex and food. We love dopamine and crave it – so we use our devices more and more and suddenly what was once a habit shows signs of becoming an addiction.
But does it matter?
Well yes and no. Technology is amazing and set to get even more amazing with the development of 5G, holograms, better voice recognition and the ‘Internet of Things’. It provides amazing advantages in medicine and day to day life.
But the trouble starts when the machine becomes the master and we are no longer in control. When our device, instead of supporting our day to day life, actually drives and governs it.
When we are no longer able to ‘unplug‘, even for short periods of time, when it begins to affect our health, our sleep, our relationships and our work then it is time to do something about it. It’s time to take back control of our digital lives and to set an example to our children and our employees.
How can you ‘pushback’?
James Roberts,the Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business says
“The devices we use are likely to stay so we all need to reach some kind of digital détente as how best to relate with the 21st-century equivalent of the security blanket. You might not want to go “cold turkey,” but we must all set aside times where we unplug from our digital devices and plug into what really matters – friends, family, and being in the moment“.
On a personal level
Firstly, look at your current practices and feelings around digital use – why are you so attached? Is it FOMO (fear of missing out – a very modern phenomena), worry about your job, loneliness and isolation, boredom or could you be heading for addiction?
Next, decide where you want to be – how much time do you want to spend in front of a screen or on a device? Think about the benefits of spending less time connected and how you are going to spend that time. One of the easiest ways of changing a habit is by replacing it with a new habit. So begin to do the things you want to do to fill the gaps when you would have been on social media or in front of a screen.
Then, identify steps you can take to control your digital life, the changes you want to make and the way you want to behave, the changes you want your family to make -your digital strategy.
Start with little steps, the easy wins, and let these embed and become habits before moving on to the next thing. This could be something as simple as agreeing to switch off your phone at a set time every evening – say 10 p.m. Then, start to bring this forward until you are having at least an hour of screen-less time before bed.
Buy an alarm clock so that you don’t have to keep your phone by your bed as your alarm – leave your phone on charge elsewhere, then you’ll be less inclined to check it last thing or if you wake in the night.
On an organisational level
You might want to think about putting a digital use policy in place and carry out some training for employees to get them off their devices and become more productive, engaged and creative and able to build better relationships both internally and with clients.
These are just a few things you can begin with. There are many more that can reduce the stress of being constantly connected, free up time and get back in touch.
The digital genie is out of the bottle now, we can’t turn back, but we do have a choice to use it as an enhancement to our every day experience or allow it to rule, or possibly ruin, our lives.
Hazel McCallum of Moving On UP Coaching helps individuals and organisations to develop digital strategies to control their screen use, reduce stress, increase wellbeing, manage time, increase productivity and improve communications.