Leon Gettler: Tech addict solutions

We have become techno-holics.  Our lives now seem to be built around the Internet and mobile phones connecting us to the wider world. Technology addiction has changed our lifestyles, the way we behave and the way people work. It is becoming  a management issue.

The Guardian tells us of a new study which finds that tweeting or checking emails are more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. Still, staying on Twitter or Facebook and checking your email won’t harm or kill you, tobacco and alcohol does. That said, the study tells us that we are addicted to technology. Of course, it can be dangerous too.

Take for example the Australian survey by Telstra which reported that 45 per cent of local drivers admitted to texting whilst driving and 30 per cent of these believed they were capable of doing both.

Commentator Bill Davidow labels it ICD (Internet Compulsion Disorder). There’s talk of including it in the bible of psychiatrists, the DSM or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Davidow says hyper-connectivity works for Internet entrepreneurs linking with customers through alerts, reminders, reward systems and virtual credits. But it comes at a cost. “In its current form, the vast majority of us will be able to use the Internet to enhance our lives. But there is already a subset of users unable to cope with the challenges. The reward circuits in those with ICD have been hijacked. The opportunities provided by the Internet to these unfortunates are so appealing that some fail in school, spend time in virtual affairs on Second Life, destroy their marriages, or become unproductive in their work lives and lose their jobs.” The addiction affects people at work, which makes it a management issue.

The Wall Street Journal reports that technology now accounts for 60 per cent of distractions thanks to email, social media and the time it takes to toggle between applications.

So how do we handle technology addiction? The American Bar Association suggests self-discipline. Don’t check your emails at 11pm and restrict the time on the lap top if you are on vacation. It might also include “tech free times” and letting people know you won’t be available after a certain time. Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell says our addiction to smart phones is causing Attention Deficit Trait in the workplace and says managers should keep employees focused on their strengths and delegate more effectively. Better workplace design might also help.

Still there were warnings during the Industrial Revolution that people would become machines. It didn’t happen. Technology only takes over if we let it. And as technology improves, being connected anywhere and anytime will be increasingly normal. It keeps people connected and focused. The Internet and mobile phones have not been around for that long and we’re still learning to adapt. That’s the challenge for all managers.

Do you think we have technology addiction? How should we deal with it?


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