Am I tech addict?
I'm pretty sure I'm not, but the thought had crossed my mind recently while listening to a fascinating “FRESH AIR” podcast.
Adam Alter, associate professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business spoke about his book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology & the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”
Click image to listen to podcast.
These Apple devices are impeding our ability to focus, Alter notes. Before the advent of the iPhone/iPad, the average person had an attention span of about 12 seconds. Research suggests there’s been a drop from 12 to eight seconds in just one decade, shorter than the attention span of the average goldfish at nine seconds.
“Imagine the goldfish in the bowl,” he said. “You hold up a piece of paper with a picture on it, perhaps another goldfish. The average goldfish will stare at that thing for about nine seconds. Do the same thing to a human. Eight seconds later, they're on to the next thing.”
I was particularly struck by several of the items Alter discussed during the program including screen time, texting, and binge-watching:
Alter was concerned smart phones allow people to exist without being inventive, without having to come up with their own activities and forms of mental stimulation. “It brings everything to you,” he said. And because of this, it's making people “weaker mental specimens.” The professor noted the average person uses their phone about three hours a day.
Alter said research suggests technology has a physiological response on the body in the same way as drugs or alcohol. When a test subject is about to engage with their tablet or smart phone, their brain activity looks very similar to an addict who is about to inject a chemical substance such as heroin.
I admit I constantly check my phone. I’m always in search of the next nugget of stimulation be it a text, an email, a photo, or a news update. I’m elated when there’s something new waiting for me, and I’m disappointed when there isn’t. Also, there have been times when I’ve temporarily misplaced my phone and I’ve flown into a panic only to be relieved once it was recovered moments later. Alter points out there’s even a term for this: “nomophobia.” It’s the fear people have of not having their phones accessible and available.
Alter discussed that for people who came of age before the tablet and smart phone, most of their interaction with others was in person. If most communication happens remotely, however, then folks don’t receive the critical feedback they need to grow and develop, and this changes how one communicates. Alter refers to communication only through these limited means as “impoverished.”
As I’ve blogged about in the past, I appreciate texting – it’s fast and convenient and a time saving device. I feel much more efficient in my communication since I first begin texting regularly about eight years ago. I enjoy talking on the phone, but much of the time a call isn't necessary to impart information quickly. If I'm running behind schedule, for instance, a simple "be there in 5 min" text will usually suffice.
I do, however, feel fortunate that I grew up before the existence of texting, email, and other forms of what I like to call “in between communication.” This allows me to recognize that they are supplements and not substitutes to interpersonal interaction. I understand solid relationships are built when people are in physical proximity and are able to look at one another, hear vocal inflections, read body language, and so on.
Alter talked about the recent
“binge-watching” phenomena. This is the practice of viewing a single television show for a lengthy timespan. Binge-watching has become popular with the rise of online media services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon where subscribers can see shows on-demand and an entire season is usually offered all at once.
I subscribe to Netflix and I've enjoyed several of their original series such “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” and “Love.” There are times when I’ll watch several episodes at a time, and it can be tough to power down my laptop when I’m absorbed in a storyline. And the fact that an episode begins automatically just seconds after the previous one ends also makes it hard.
Like texting, I consider streaming an asset rather than a liability. I appreciate the service and I don't take streaming for granted because it wasn't long ago when it wasn’t an option. Fortunately as an adult, I have certain level of self-control and I'm able to moderate my viewing habits. However, if I was younger and I wasn’t as disciplined, I can see where it could interfere with important activities like, say, reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Final thoughts: we're living in exciting times as there have been some incredible advancements in consumer electronics in a short period. While these tools can pose some navigational challenges, I'd rather have them than not. What's the alternative, anyway? Being alone with one's thoughts? I shudder!