The most significant development in technology in the past year wasn’t AI or machine learning or the cloud or blockchain. No, the biggest step forward in the world of technology in 2018 was the realisation that we have to set boundaries in our relationship with technology to protect our humanity. This was the year our relationship with technology went through a profound transformation. It was the year we realised that the consequences of allowing technology into every aspect of our lives aren’t all positive.
As we’ve rushed to embrace technology that promises us constant connection, endless efficiency, and hyper-productivity, we’ve discovered that the results aren’t always as promised.
In fact, very often, they are the opposite of what we are really seeking. What we have discovered is that technology might be great at delivering what we want in the moment, but it’s less great at giving us what we need over the long term.
Yes, we all love our devices and all the amazing things they allow us to do. But at the same time, our technology has accelerated our lives beyond our capacity to keep up. We all feel it, and it’s getting worse. It turns out, we’re being controlled by something we should be controlling. And it’s consuming our attention and crippling our ability to focus, think, be present, and, most important, to truly connect, both with others and with ourselves.
So now that we have had this great awakening in 2018, it is time to make 2019 the year of action and change. This is the year to go beyond awareness and actually take charge of our relationship with technology. As we’re now coming to realise, technology is simply a tool. It’s about how we use it and what it ultimately does for our lives. Technology can be used to augment our humanity or to consume it.
And the numbers make that clear. We’re hardwired to connect and, yes, our devices offer us a form of perpetual connection with the entire world. But that often comes with disconnection from what is immediately around us. In a Pew study, 89 percent of phone owners said they had used their phones in their previous social gathering, but 82 percent said that when they do this it damages the interaction. And in a study from Baylor University in Texas, 70 percent of respondents said that phones had interfered with their interactions with their romantic partners. And it disconnects us from our families.
According to a survey carried out by Wakefield Research for Comcast, 98 percent of parents said that unplugging from devices during meals is important to maintaining their family bond, and yet 42 percent couldn’t even remember the last time their family had eaten a meal with no devices present. Even though we might think our devices make us more efficient and productive by allowing us to multitask, the research says otherwise.
A study from Stanford University found that multitasking actually reduces our productivity by as much as 40 percent. Another study from the University of London found that multitasking lowered one’s IQ to a level similar to what it would be after staying up all night or smoking marijuana. And all those emails bombarding your inbox? Those are taking a toll, too. Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that in a typical office, an employee gets only 11 minutes between each interruption — and then takes an average of 25 minutes to even get back to the original task.
In fact, our phones disconnect us even when we are not using them. A study from Virginia Tech looked at conversations among 100 pairs of people, some with phones on the table. The authors found that the mere presence of an untouched phone degraded the quality of the conversation and lowered the levels of empathy the participants felt toward each other. As MIT professor Sherry Turkle put it in her book, Reclaiming Conversation, “even a silent phone disconnects us.”
And that is a lot of disconnection. The number of people in India being treated for mobile phone addiction has spiked between 75 percent and 100 percent in the last year alone, mostly among young people between 13 and 24 years old. And a recent study showed that 65 percent of Indians between 22 and 25 years old show signs of depression, while 25 percent of teens (13-15 years old) suffer from depression. But that can all change.
And it should. We now know that we can’t be healthy without a healthy relationship with technology. We now know the value of being mindful about how we use technology. And more and more people are reclaiming the joys of real connection that they had outsourced to their devices. So let’s make 2019 the year we disconnect — when we can, but regularly, and every day — from our phones and connect with ourselves, with those we love and with what we really want to be doing. Let’s resolve to live our lives instead of just documenting experiences we never quite had. Let us resolve to look up from our screens and look at each other — or look inside ourselves.
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Originally published on The Economic Times.