Are Smartphones the New Crack Cocaine?
Have you ever noticed what happens if, heaven forbid, you are travelling and your data roaming doesn’t work? Or even worse, you don’t have service at all? People will practically walk into oncoming traffic, phones raised high over their heads, frantically searching for that one bar.
Lately, I have been taking a long, hard look at smartphone habits—in particular my own—and I was quite surprised to discover during a recent trip to Malta where there was no WiFi, just how peaceful being disconnected can be.
Ever since ChapmanCG’s humble beginnings back in 2008, we have had a virtual environment, which has allowed us to work from anywhere in the world. Laptops were the technology of choice to stay connected back then. Phones were still mainly used for phone calls—remember that?—and when we needed to connect with someone, we did so by email.
Fast forward to 2017 and smartphones are the nerve centre of our lives. WiFi is everywhere. Data is cheap. Our attention spans are short and the constant maelstrom of communications has conditioned us to respond immediately. We complete our daily priorities through a hailstorm of interruptions. The act of sending an email is either a sprint to the “send” button or an obstacle course of distractions by WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook, and Skype notifications.
Our phones literally contain… well, our lives—from photos, to contact details, our music library, our to-do lists and calendar events. We access the internet on the go and will choose where we dine based on WiFi availability. It seems like every app is designed to be compatible first with our mobile devices because no one wants to be tethered to a desktop (or even a laptop) anymore. And what if you lose your phone? Who memorises phone numbers anymore?
While I write all the above in partial jest, there has been a lot of research about our growing dependence on smartphones. I’ve written a few articles that mention the importance of curtailing our connectivity (here and here). And Forbes recently wrote this interesting article about smartphone usage. (It also touches upon our misconceptions about dopamine.) I keep coming back to this topic because it seems that far too many of us have created an unhealthy relationship with technology. I don’t believe that technology is bad. In fact, I believe the exact opposite. It just seems that we don’t know how to switch off anymore; it’s like we’ve forgotten how to live undistracted.
Perhaps, our dependence on our mobile devices receives so much attention because we know, even when we don’t want to accept it, that there is a limit to everything and that we need to become more mindful of our usage for the sake of our mental wellbeing.
It’s not lost on me that my business, and all of yours, is heavily reliant on technology. Accessibility is a major competitive advantage in many industries. And who can deny the convenience of having all the information you need right at your fingertips? But I can’t help feel that we’re slowly losing something with this constant access. I find myself having to re-train my brain to limit my use of it. When did I get to the point that a simple walk down the street dictated that I log in to check messages along the way?
Recognising this about myself has led to some necessary changes. It was hard at first because I hadn’t realised just how “available” I had become. But I now spend more time without technology. A walk doesn’t require my mobile phone. I have also learned to do deep work, which means I’m more focused and my work reaches a state of flow because there are times throughout the day when my mobile phone is turned off. I also read a lot more. And while my team knows how to reach me if there’s an emergency, I’m more mindful of the time I spend on replying to emails and text messages versus producing work.
As any HR leader can attest, it’s quite challenging being accountable to a global business. The boundaries around our remits continue to expand, and each market we operate in has a different level of maturity, thus requiring a different level of our attention. Technology makes our jobs easier. We are able to do things that we wouldn’t have dreamed of twenty years ago. And we do them faster and better because of technology.
But managing that technology, especially our growing dependence on our smartphones is critical, I believe. Our days will only continue to shorten and how we spend our time will have a large impact on our mental and physical well-being.
I’d love to hear how you’re managing technology and your smartphone usage in your daily lives.