Is Technology An Addiction, A Crutch Or Normal For Who We Are?

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I’m addicted to my iPhone. There, I said it. Are you? Be honest.

This is a tale of two stories. 

Story #1. When it comes to managing your smartphone, accessibility, and being engaged at work, many people leave their devices on the default settings. For years, I have argued that this is a big mistake. You can’t let technology control you. You have to control technology? How? My simplistic technique (which I still apply and recommend that you do as well) is this: turn off all notifications, pings, rings, ringtones, etc… On the iPhone, you can create a unique tone/pulse for specific contacts. I have one for my spouse. That’s it. Otherwise, my phone does not ring, beep or notify me of anything. If I want to check email, the phone, text messages, Facebook updates, etc… I have to take the proactive step of doing so. It’s a small and simple way to take control of one’s technology and access. It doesn’t notify me. I check in when I want to/have the time.

Story #2. I have lost all control. I am constantly checking for emails, messages, updates, mentions and more. I don’t think I do it more/less than the average bear, but because so much more of my life is operated through the iPhone (note taking, banking, travel, reading books, magazine articles, shopping, etc…), it’s become the place where I spend a lot of my waking hours. It’s become the place where a lot of my creative effort in inputed, published and interacted with. It has come to a point where having/not having the notifications set up (as defined above) hardly matters because of how much time I’m spending in front of the screen. In fact, even when I “disconnect” through my daily mindfulness practice, it is done via the app Headspace. So, still on the iPhone. Ugh.

Is it just me? I don’t think so. Here’s some staggering data about how connected we’ve become:

  • 70% of office emails are read within six seconds of arriving (source).
  • 47% of adults say they would not last a full 24 hours without their smartphones (source).
  • Americans collectively check their smartphones upwards of 8 billion times per day (source).
  • The average attention span has fallen to eight seconds in 2016, down from twelve seconds in the year 2000. That’s a shorter attention span than goldfish (source).

This is just the beginning. There is a lot more data on this topic (just Google it).

Are you addicted to your smartphone (can’t live without it/constantly checking it/get nervous when it’s not on you)? Do you use your smartphone as a crutch (able to look busy when you don’t want to interact with human beings in their protein forms/not interested in what’s in front of you in the physical world, so you grab the phone)? Is this normal? Is this who we have become? Is this healthy? Is it a problem? While these may not be new questions, they are questions that we must, increasingly, look at as business professionals. How much of what we create, market and push into people’s faces is adding value and not more noise to this experience. Look no further than the groundbreaking work of Sherry Turkle (and her two incredible business books, Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation). With every day, our usage and connection increases, so even studies done last year on these topics, may not be correct as we use these devices now to do more and more (like control our homes, TVs, garage doors, alarm systems, thermostats, etc…). 

The first step is admitting that you have a problem (as they say).

Today, Adam Alter published his latest business book, Irresistible – The Rise Of Addictive Technology And The Business Of Keeping Us Hooked. Adam is  an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University‘s Stern School of Business, with an affiliated appointment in the New York University Psychology Department. We met back in 2012, prior to the publishing of his first book, Drunk Tank Pink (you can listen to our conversation right here: SPOS #358 – Understanding Humans And Making Marketing Better With Adam Alter). This new book, Irresistible, must be read by you (and everyone that you know). As we continue to build our brands and amp up sales for our businesses, we tend to pay little attention to what, exactly, all of this content, information, technology, innovation and connectedness might be doing (that isn’t so great) to our overall health. Adam’s book looks at the implications of our evaporating attention spans, our ability to truly empathize with one another, and the need (for many) to get professional help, because of how addicted they truly are.

We’re not born this way. We have done this to ourselves.

This is not binary. It is a spectrum. And, no matter where you sit on this spectrum of addictiveness to technology, it’s important to step back, read Irresistible, and think about how our relationship to technology could be crippling the relationships that we have with our family, friends and – even – ourselves. In the next few weeks, Adam and I will record a new conversation for Six Pixels of Separation – The Mirum Podcast (so, look for it in the coming weeks). Until then, pick up his book. Think about the alternative as well: is it possible to be “successful” without being this connected? And, yes, the irony of me reading this book on my iPhone (Kindle app) was not lost on me.

What has technology done to us? And, more importantly, as overwhelmed as we have become, is there a viable solution? What do you think?