Digital Technology: Are We Addicted?

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 12/07/2017

This blog appeared on the Printing Impressions website on October 13, 2017.

A recent CBC interview with Adam Alter, Associate Professor of Marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business, discussed why technology is addictive and what we can do about it. The full interview is available by clicking here.

There is a new term out there for those who feel anxious when their cell phone is out of reach. It’s called “nomophobia” - shortened from “no mobile phone.” Are we really so addicted to our phones and their nonstop access to information and friends, that we cannot live without them for a day or two? According to Alter, a recent survey suggested that 75% of people keep their phones within reach 24 hours a day. For the average person, the time spent using a phone screen (not including actual phone use) has increased from over 2.5 hours/day two years ago to over 3.5 hours/day currently.

And most people underestimate their phone use by about 100%! There are now apps available to track phone screen use. Alter himself was astonished to find that he spent twice as much time on his phone as he thought.

Why are we so attracted to digital technology? One big reason: social media and games are difficult to resist. And they are designed that way: they have variable feedback that we want to optimize or they involve a reward that is within reach but is not guaranteed. For example, we might post something and then wait (anxiously) to see if people will ‘like’ it. Or, we might play a video game that involves goals or levels and winning becomes paramount.

Of course, all this digital use has unknown consequences for our children and their future. Two big technological events: the introduction of the iPhone in 2009 and the iPad in 2010 apparently coincided with spikes in social and developmental delays. Studies have shown that children who spend a lot of time looking at screens are slower to develop language skills and therefore are not very strong at verbal communication. Work needs to be done to ensure that despite the temptation of screens, children are getting all the educational building blocks they need.

Some countries take digital addiction very seriously. Japan, Korea and China have introduced legislation to limit the amount of time children can spend playing games. Military-like camps have been set up to help children overcome their techno-addictions. In Europe, companies with more than 50 employees are required to show how they protect their employees from work-related email received outside of working hours.

And how can we deal with our own overuse of digital technology? Alter suggests starting small and picking times (like a meal) that will be screen-free. Or putting the phone on airplane mode while we play with our children. Digital technology is designed to be irresistible but if Steve Jobs, in 2010, said he limited the amount of digital technology his children could use at home (including no iPad), perhaps resisting it would be good for our health!

The latest Two Sides global consumer survey on Print and Paper in a Digital World also has some eye-opening facts about this issue.

To find out more about why Print and Paper Play a Key Role in Learning and Literacy, CLICK HERE for a fact sheet produced by Two Sides.

Source: Printing Impressions website, October 13, 2017