Internet and information technology tend to be viewed as major contributors to the development of global businesses and, generally, productivity growth. I have also repeatedly written about these benefits, be it business opportunities created by social media platforms, new forms of work, such as telecommuting and virtual expatriation, or improved connectivity that allows for functioning of global virtual teams. Many of us probably regard computers, tablets, and smartphones with unlimited internet access as indispensable, both professionally and personally. Indeed, both internet and technology are meant to make our lives easier, our work more productive and our connections more accessible…
And yet, internet and technology also seem to take a toll. Parents become increasingly worried about the amount of time their children spend in the virtual reality, teachers quite rightfully blame the decrease in students’ concentration skills and memory on ‘smartphone epidemics’, advances in technologies positively correlate with sedentary lifestyles, and increased productivity seems to fade against all the distractions the very same technology provides us with. Just take a moment to reflect whether the piece of technology in your hands has been shaping your behaviors, and more importantly, in which direction?
Having examined the dramatic changes of humans’ relationship towards technology over recent years, more and more experts raise the rather negative tendencies and effects of this relationship. Many call it behavioral addiction, as smartphones and the internet in general light up the same ‘pleasure pathways’ in the brain or, put differently, create the dopamine-loops the same way as drugs or alcohol do. Similar to other addictions, we may feel ‘high’ when being online, scrolling our newsfeed, sharing our Instagram pics, tweeting, and feel strong cravings as soon as the smartphone runs out of battery or there is no internet to be found around. Other experts see humans’ preoccupation with digital technology and the internet as some form of anxiety. For example, as one study shows, when being unexpectedly separated from smartphones, moderate and heavy phone users may experience so called separation anxiety, mediated by an unhealthy connection to their constant use. We tend to constantly check our social media, e-mails and news apps not only out of bad habit, but also because we are afraid of ‘missing out’. Indeed, given the amount of information available to us at any given second, as well as constant availability to each other in the connected virtual world, we might experience digital overload, and hence the pressure of keeping up with all of it.
This dark side of our digitally savvy and connected world is naturally posing some responsibility questions and business dilemmas to the global tech industry. As discussed in a recent FT article, tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter start realizing how their companies are to be blamed for the unhealthy relationship with internet technology and make efforts to tackle screen addiction. There seems to be an inherent dilemma or conflict though, as at one point CEOs of these companies might need to choose between social responsibility and increased revenues… after all, the more time we spend with our devices, the higher the revenues of internet companies.
Resolving such inherent dilemmas and finding the balance between the good and the bad of the internet and technology more broadly will probably take some time. Meanwhile, each of us is still free to be more aware, and in control of the decision whether the smartphone is the last thing to be seen before going to sleep, and the first thing to be attended to when waking up.