Digital addiction has recently joined high-fructose corn syrup and lack of exercise as one of modern society’s familiar boogeymen. Internet dependency has been decried as being as harmful to the brain as drugs and alcohol, and linked to destroying everything from our attention spans to our relationships, and more.
Good luck going five minutes without it, though.
Our dependency on our many devices has inspired an industry of digital detox specialists (no, really). With our phones, watches, even our glasses now equipped for high-speed WiFi, it is too late to turn back to the pre-Internet ways. Although the voices clamoring against our constant connection grow louder, some argue this may not be such a bad thing after all.
More Connected than Ever
Americans are crazy for their digital devices. The Pew Research Center found that more than 90% of American adults have a cell phone (64% have a smartphone) and 42% have a tablet computer. The average person spends nearly nine hours a day using electronic devices—more than we sleep each night. We spend about 23 hours a week communicating digitally by email, text, or social media, with up to three hours a day just on social media.
This constant connection has created an insatiable need to check all social media, all the time (you know, just in case). As many as 18% of Facebook users can’t let a few hours pass without logging in, while 28% of iPhone users with Twitter check it before even getting out of bed in the morning. Don’t count on this changing any time soon: As many as 90% of 18-29 year-olds fall asleep with their smartphones next to them each night.
Did you get a text while reading that last paragraph, by the way, or was that a phantom vibration? You might want to look into it.
Digital Detoxes and Offline Vacations
In the past, destinations promised reliable connections to lure travelers. Now “Unplugged Vacations” are succeeding by offering the exact opposite. Professional consultants sell overwhelmed professionals six-week courses to improve digital habits (starting at £298, around $450 in U.S. currency). Other industry professionals recommend taking complete 24- to 72-hour “digital detoxes” from time to time. These vacations, courses, and detoxes allow us to reclaim our attention spans and reset our cluttered minds to the simpler days of Nokia flip-phones…if we can overcome the chronic FOMO that comes with our 24/7 connection, that is.
When was the last time you checked your email? Don’t you think you should now?
Why Disconnect at All?
While many experts are telling us the sky is falling, the folks at the Harvard Business Review are here to sooth our concerns. One of their recent posts suggests that digital overload might actually be helpful for us.
There is no tenable way to fight the incoming wave of emails, tweets, status updates, and texts, the article admits, but the challenge of dealing with the steady stream of information can actually become “an enormous professional asset.” We sharpen our focus by learning to identify, triage, and address priorities among a sea of distractions. What’s more, these skills—learned during personal time—often transfer over to the professional world. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media may have been deemed a work distraction in the past, but managing these accounts effectively is a key competency for modern businesses.
Remember: the next time someone berates you for being addicted to technology, just tell them Harvard said it’s OK.
The Bottom Line
Unless our infatuation with post-apocalyptic movies proves prophetic, America’s digital dependency is here to stay. All our shiny, Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets have turned us into a nation constantly jumping at the sound of incoming notifications, real or imaginary.
Many are trying to reclaim their brain waves through digital detoxes, vacations, and days off before it is too late. The next generation is already losing that fight. If they can’t rein in the technology use, they might want to become familiar with the concepts the Harvard Business Review uses to defend digital addiction instead. It’s so much easier than saying goodbye to iPhones.