Could You Be Addicted to Technology?
When Maria and her husband John decided to go on a holiday recently to The Maldives, Maria says she was excited and was anticipating an exciting and fun holiday. But she was instead completely hurt and disappointed by her husband’s excessive Blackberry use. She explains, “For me a holiday as a couple was like a second honeymoon. We planned it for months and my parents came to stay with our three kids. But from day one, John could not leave his Blackberry alone. Even during meals he would stop mid-way and check if the light flashed. I once saw him at 4 a.m. checking and then responding! A few times he left the device in our hotel room but sure enough the minute we came back he would run for it like it was an urgent matter. By the end of our trip I was so upset with him that we were barely speaking…”
While we do rely heavily on the convenience of being able to relay messages via email or texting, the paradox of this new modernity is that our connection to our smartphones, tablets and Internet are interfering with real world relationships–especially with our children and partners and tilting life completely out of balance. According to Dr. S Altaf Basha, Professor of Internal Medicine at GMC Hospital, technology addiction can be anything from addiction to the excessive use of smart phones—such as Blackberry or iphones or even an addiction to watching TV programmes for long periods of time or spending excessive time behind the screen of your laptop. “Still technology addiction is different from other addictions as this has no real direct threat to health,” he says. “Also it is still not considered as dangerous to the person or family nor is there social stigma attached to technology addictions.” Most have us have sent a text message in a restaurant or a social gathering while others have secretly checked personal email in the office. “And finally, technology addiction does not come under the jurisdiction of the law,” he says as is the case with drug, alcohol or various other addictions. In fact research shows that these days, we are more wired than ever. An AOL study revealed that 59 percent of PDA users check every single time an email arrives and 83 percent check email every day on vacation.
Early signs of technology addiction, points out Dr. Basha, include spending an unusually longer time with technological devices or more frequent use. “Also using devices unnecessarily without the pressing need to use it,” he says, as in checking emails even late into the night despite feeling sleepy or tired. The more severe, full blown addiction signs include a student neglecting his or her studies or neglecting social responsibilities while indulging in the technology addiction, he says as is more common than not with students chatting with friends on Facebook or using Blackberry devices obsessively. “Two other extreme signs of technology addictions are spending huge sums of money to procure the latest gadgets beyond one’s financial capabilities and secondly, indulging in antisocial activities through the medium of internet,” explains Dr. Basha.
Being constantly connected to technological devices not only results in a loss of valuable man hours, says Dr. Basha, but also finances as the time spent connecting could have been spent working in a more practical sense. “Secondly, it can affect health indirectly as people who are addicted to technology become sedentary and are more prone to sitting for longer periods of time with less physical activity,” he says. “Often it can also result in social problems such as a breakdown of relationships, friendships and in students especially, it can bring down their academic performance.” And finally, over connectivity often devalues the importance of human relationships and written and spoken communication—for example, texting and email have almost replaced traditional telephone calls and face-to-face visits.
Some offices have even made the effort to disconnect collectively—as is the case with Scott Dockter, president and CEO of PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services Inc., who two years back, decided to take Casual Friday one step further, and created email-free Fridays, where employees are encouraged to talk offline to resolve issues, by picking up the phone or meeting face-to-face. As a result, he saw an 80 percent email drop-off in the first year and noticed a reduction of unnecessary reports sent and excessive cc-ing. The policy changed habits, not just on Fridays. “People actually started talking to each other,” says Dockter.
To overcome technology addiction, Dr. Basha advises that we create awareness of the problems associated with technology addiction first and foremost. Like with all addictions, consciously accepting and admitting that there is a problem is part of the solution. “Next, highlight the importance of spending time together in the family and with friends,” he says and encourages physical activity like games and outdoor sports activities. “Also encourage writing skills and other creative habits such as learning a musical instrument or art,” he says.
It’s very much possible to disconnect, says Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. “The single greatest enemy of creativity is overload,” he says. His advice to disconnect is as follows:
Experiment with short periods of inaccessibility. Your life won’t implode, Ferriss says. “As with any addiction, there is a period of withdrawal and anxiety.”
Leave your cell phone and PDA at home one day a week. Saturday is a good day to cut off email and cell phone usage. “For most people, it will feel like a two-week vacation,” Ferriss says. “The psychological recovery it offers is pretty unbelievable.”
Set a “not-to-do list.” Don’t check email before 10 a.m. to avoid immediate reactive mode, Ferriss suggests. Set intervals to check email, for example, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Use an auto-responder to explain that you can be reached any time on your cell phone.
Eliminate rather than streamline whenever possible. Lose the RSS feeder, Ferriss says. “If you have an addictive impulse with tools, lose the tool,” he says.
Hire a virtual assistant. “A big part of priority management is teaching others tasks,” he says. “A big part is getting over yourself. You don’t have a superhuman email checking ability.”
Buddy up. Don’t go it alone on the road to recovery, Hallowell says, because you’re likely to revert to your old habits. Ask a colleague, administrative assistant, or spouse to help you enforce the new rules.
Learn moderation. “I’m not anti-technology,” Hallowell says. “Some is good for you, but too much is really, really bad.”