The growing problem of constant mobile access

In today’s world a buzzing smartphone takes priority over anything else going on in the room, and it’s a growing pet peeve of mine. If I’m having a face-to-face conversation with someone it should have priority, yet this doesn’t hold true for a significant number of my coworkers.

Whenever their phones buzz, they turn to investigate. I would understand if they’re dealing with a business or family emergency, but with some people this is just standard behavior. Whoever is interrupting via mobile has priority. I am sure these offenders don’t mean to offend me. “I’ll just take a quick call and then get back to Yorgen, I’m sure he won’t mind.”

But I do mind. The other person multi tasked, but I was forced to wait, despite actually being in the room with them. And unfortunately this is becoming the new normal.

Are we addicted to being connected?

Researchers have discovered that most people seem to have a latent addiction to multitasking and being connected.  A report by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers revealed that the average person checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, according to ABC News. Assuming we’re awake for approximately 17 hours a day, that translates to looking at our phones every 6.8 minutes! In a study of 1,600 managers and professionals, Leslie Perlow, the Konsuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, found that:

  • 70% said they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up
  • 56% check their phone within an hour before going to sleep
  • 51% check continuously during vacation
  • 26% confessed to sleeping with their smartphones

I was surprised to see that more than a quarter of these people slept with their phones. But it gets better: Resesarch from Pew Internet Group found that 44 percent of all cell phone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed, and 90 percent of 18 to 29 year olds sleep with their phones!  Whoever added the alarm function to the cell phone gave all these people the excuse they needed:  They are not connection addicted, they just have a very capable alarm clock.

Less is more

Around-the-clock reliance on mobile devices is now a recognized problem. It even has a name: nomophobia – a condition that causes individuals to feel anxious when they have no access to mobile technology. While the word may make people smirk, it’s no laughing matter. Rehab and recovery centers are popping up across the globe to treat the psychological, social and physical issues that come with cell phone addiction. Even executives from major technology brands such as Facebook and Google are concerned, and are participating in conferences focused on finding a balance in your digital life, according to The New York Times.

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how to manage a (distracted) mobile team and suggested encouraging employees to cut the cord to their mobile devices when working on a task that requires focus. Now, I’m challenging workers to set mobile device parameters in order to reduce overall phone dependence, improve face-to-face interactions, and maybe, just maybe, get a better night’s sleep:

  • Go offline. Start small – maybe a block of 20-30 minutes at a time. A great place to start is when you’re trying to get a project wrapped up – maybe a new business proposal or a slide deck. Resist the urge to check your phone until you’re done writing.
  • Go silent. When you hear a new email “ding” you’re hardwired to pick up your phone. The temptation is simply too great. Make it easier on yourself and turn off the volume.
  • Trust in the phone call. I know people who check their phone incessantly just in case it’s the client. Of course, there’s always a possibility that an email could come in – at any hour of the day. But if it’s truly an emergency, they’ll call.
  • Get an actual alarm clock. Many people who sleep with, or next, to their phones do so because the phone acts as an alarm. Do yourself a favor and buy an old fashioned alarm clock. Otherwise, you’re waking up with your phone already in hand, checking emails, and starting your workday before you’ve even climbed out of bed.

Continuously checking our phones doesn’t prove how busy or important we are, it just shows that we’re becoming a work force of distracted, digitally addicted professionals. By putting the phone down for a just a few minutes, we can improve our work output, our mood, and our personal connections.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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