How to tell if your digital addiction is ruining your life
(This piece was written for and was originally published on Nov. 26, 2019.)
The fear that digital distractions are ruining our lives and friendships is .
To be sure, digital addiction is . Consider the we touch our phones every day, our panic when we , the experience of “” and how merely seeing a message alert can be .
This can have real consequences. For example, other people if you stop talking to them to answer a message. And taking a break from a task to look at your cell phone on whatever you were doing.
But this tells only part of the story. We need to also acknowledge that today’s technologies can make us more connected than ever before.
So how do we avoid the potential pitfalls while still reaping the benefits?
As a , I have spent nearly two decades looking at the ways in which interacting via screens is different from interacting in other ways, including face-to-face, on the phone and in writing.
My research group has produced study after study showing that people are more self-serving (that is, ), more negative (for example, giving others ) and less cooperative (more behavior) when they use digital means of communicating. And for children under five, there are serious concerns for .
Our fears about the impact of increasing amounts of screen time on ourselves and our children involve three main areas: mental health, addiction and the level of engagement with what’s going on around us. In all three, the .
Much has been made of the potential links between depression and cell phone use – – but seems to indicate that that link is tenuous at best.
As for addiction, the field of psychology has now recognized as a genuine and diagnosable problem. Stories from for people whose lives have been consumed by this addiction suggest the phenomenon is real and the suffering can be quite genuine.
But compared with the numbers of people who play online games without serious consequences.
And in terms of engagement, despite growing amounts of time spent on screens, the vast majority of kids do still get educated, make friends and go on to lead productive lives.
As more and more of our interactions move away from the traditional face-to-face and into the online realm, I believe we must recognize that in some areas, may also be on the rise.
Colleagues can work together from afar, friends can keep in touch without restraint and grandparents can directly touch base with their grandkids without needing to schedule a visit or go through the parents.
Language changes as we interact in shorter bursts, allowing us to connect in less formal ways. Humor changes as we are able to add visuals – pictures, emojis, GIFs, memes – to our words. Even those online video games can be a portal to increased social interactions for some.
Perhaps the best way to evaluate time spent with our phones is to ask two related questions.
First, what are you doing with the time you’re devoting to your phone, and is it consistent with your values and priorities?
If you feel that you and your kids are enjoying your screen time and not risking sleep, work or in-person interactions, you may not have much reason for concern. To help with this task, tools and apps that can and let you know where your attention is being directed – or even – are becoming more prevalent.
Secondly, what are your blind spots about where and how phone use might be limiting the rest of your life?
Most of us realize we shouldn’t use phones right before bed – or, even worse, when driving or crossing streets – and we know we should keep an eye on our kids and teenagers to ensure that they are building good habits both inside and outside the digital realm. But we’re less clear on how our phones might be affecting our lives in other ways.
The latest research offers some lessons. For starters, we’re not as good as we think at multitasking: We generally give to both tasks when we try to do two things at once. Over time, people who do this constantly end up with greater error rates on tasks, perhaps linked to .
Even the mere presence of a phone can limit your and your ability to with others.
All of this means that even though you may not need to worry about your phone use overall, there are still moments when you’d be wise to put your device out of sight and earshot. This will give you the best chance to think about complex tasks or to engage more fully with those around you.
Putting down our phones completely seems neither realistic nor desirable: Society has moved forward, phones in hand.
But choosing the moments where being phone-free is most valuable can help keep you on track.
Terri Kurtzberg is an associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School. Her areas of expertise include electronic communication and distraction, negotiation strategies and tactics, virtual teams and organizational creativity.
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