Sunday, June 13, 2010

Are you addicted?

A recent article in the New York Times made me wonder whether in fact it is possible to be addicted to technology. The article is well worth the read and it harps back to what I have said many times about how multitasking is a myth. Is the real issue here that people have become ‘addicted’ to technology?

Addiction actually turns out to be something rather hard to define specifically. Everybody ‘knows’ what addiction is but few can actually satisfactorily define. I like this definition from Robert West (Theory of Addiction) -

‘syndrome at the centre of which is impaired control over behaviours, and this loss of control is leading to significant harm’

Unfortunately this definition also requires us to define what may constitute ‘harm’. For this case let’s consider that we have no more precious resource than time, for once it passes it is gone forever. Thus, let us consider harm as being anything that reduces the time we have.

Let me now ask you, when was the last time you totally unplugged from technology? When did you simply turn everything off for a day or two? Most people probably shudder at the mere thought but doesn’t being unable to do so indicate a loss of control? Doesn’t it indicate an impaired control over your behaviour? In short, doesn’t that indicate addiction?

Sure, there are plenty of great things that technology provides however as I have said before, your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness. The secret is control which when it comes to technology we seem to have less and less of. The distraction virus is a growing problem facing individuals unable to control their dependence on technology. You know these people, there the ‘gunnas’ (i.e. going to do this, going to do that) or those who are always ‘so busy’ when in reality they are living in denial because it is all just an excuse.

This lack of control is causing us to focus on the wrong priorities, it is making us overlook the important, resulting in wasted time. Thus it is causing us harm. Therefore many are addicted but sadly many probably do not even realize it.

At the end of the day it is all about results. Most people don’t care how you get the result they simply care that you get the result. Technology can certainly be used to get results faster and more efficiently but likewise it can also lead us down the path of distraction and even perhaps to addiction. As the article in the New York Times talks about, an obsession with gadgets and technology could be altering your behaviour and if you can no longer control that behaviour then it sounds to me like you may be addicted. If you don’t believe me see how long you can go without checking email.