Leon Gettler: Smartphone control

One of the most fascinating trends in recent years has been watching the way smartphones have taken over people’s lives. Smartphones are highly addictive. They have apps that have you interacting with others using the same sort of phone. Many more people these days are no longer listening to what’s being said to them. Look at people in cafes, bars and train stations around town and you’ll find that they’re no longer talking, their looking at their phones. Instead of communicating orally, more people are staying in touch with each other through different portals. Technology also limits people’s access to printed books, just in terms of time. Smartphones are terrific for multi-tasking and presenting people with information but they a’re a real game-changer. How do we stop them from ruining our lives?

The first thing to do is to check to see if you’re addicted. Take a look at this short guide. Do you use all the apps you’ve installed? Have you cut back on necessities to afford your mobile phone bill? Does a battery charge hardly last a day? Does it feel like you’ve lost a friend when you’ve broken it or misplaced it? Do you feel a moment of panic when you can’t feel it in your pocket? Do you use it in the bathroom?

I would add a few questions of my own. Do you sleep with your smartphone? Is it the last thing you look at when you go to sleep, and the first thing when you wake up? Do you keep using it or taking it out to check when you’re out with people?

According to one British study, cited by Mashable magazine, 37 per cent of adults and 60 per cent of teens admit they are highly addicted to their smartphones, 23 per cent of teenagers claim to watch less TV and 15 per cent admit they read fewer books as a result of their smartphone use. Also, 51 per cent of adults and 65 per cent of teens say they have used their smartphone while socialising with others while 23 per cent of adults and 34 per cent of teens have used their smartphones during mealtimes. Worse still, 22 per cent of adults and 47 per cent of teens admitted using or answering their smartphone while in the bathroom.

Obviously we have a problem. And it’s going to get worse. As reported here, a World Bank report has found that soon there will be more phones than people. It estimates that by 2015 there will be 7.5 billion people in the world and nearly nine billion mobile subscriptions. And you can bet many of those will be smartphones.

So how do we cope with this and stop it from taking over our lives? Psychology professor Jim Taylor suggests going cold turkey but if that’s not your cup of tea, he says, you could always wean yourself off it by having in place limits like such as no technology at the dinner table or not bringing your phone with you when you exercise. Eventually you can even have “no technology” days, say on a Sunday.  Leslie Perlow at the Harvard Business Review suggests getting together more often with people you interact with to get into those long conversations without technology.

What strategies would you suggest to stop the smartphone taking over our lives?


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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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