Addictive technology and why our screens make us less happy

addictive technology

“Summertime and the living is easy.” Yes, it is indisputably summertime but instead of enjoying it, many of us are as tied to our smartphones, tablets or computers as during the darkest days of winter. Even when we’re on vacation.

In his recent TEDTalk, Alan Alter, psychologist and NYU Associate Professor of Marketing, describes how excessive indulgence in screen reading has become a behavioral addiction controlling our lives. According to Professor Alter, we all work longer hours each year and many of us apparently, spend an average of three hours on our smartphones – every day.

Miraculous and wonderful as technology is, Professor Alter explains that since 2007, the approximately three hours we then dedicated to personal time, or downtime, including time we spend with family and friends, has dropped to almost nothing – a mere blip on the screen, so to speak. Usually, we’re clueless that our less than happy state is the result of this diminished personal time,

Early in his TEDTalk, he recalls an unexpected Steve Jobs’ revelation about his own family and the iPad. At the time of its release, he famously described the device as “the best browsing experience” and “extraordinary,” yet when questioned by a journalist about how his children must love it, the reply was astonishing:

“They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
— Steve Jobs commenting on his children’s use of the iPad.

No boundaries

In addition to limiting screen time, the Jobs’ family proactively used dinnertime for conversational engagement. Step into any busy food court at lunchtime and you’ll see vast numbers of people eating together. Instead of chatting, they are independently glued to small screens, even as they raise their soup spoons!

It is the absence of boundaries or what Professor Alter calls “stopping cues,” that enables endless screening. With most media today, unlike a newspaper or magazine, there are no stopping cues. The news just rolls on forever.

Work-life balance initiatives within organizations:
Europe leads the way

It was several years ago, when we first learned about some genuine efforts to sustain a healthy work-life balance. Germany’s ministry of employment banned managers from emailing or calling staff outside official business hours except in absolute emergencies. And even then, the guidelines made it clear that staff should not be penalized for failing to pick up the message.

The ministry was following precedents imposed by Volkswagen, BMW and Puma. Just 30 minutes after the workday’s end, VW stops the clock and no more emails are forwarded. The other firms make it very clear that employees are under no obligation to check emails over the weekend

According to Professor Alter, this innovative mindset continues in Germany. At Daimler, incoming emails to people on vacation are deleted. Senders are advised that the intended recipient will never, ever see the email – and to resend it in a few weeks, or email someone else!

He also describes a Dutch design firm that transforms into a yoga studio promptly at 6:00 pm. Desks are raised to the ceiling and remain suspended in space, totally inaccessible. Namaste.

Watch Adam Alter’s TEDTalk

Learn more about Adam Alter’s book:
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

And finally, take some well-deserved downtime and listen to George Gershwin’s Summertime, with lyrics by DuBose Heyward. Composed for the 1935 debut of Porgy and Bess. Stephen Sondheim characterized these lyrics as “the best lyrics in the musical theater.” Here’s Ella Fitzgerald.

Building organizations for the future: From designing the new organization to actively building it now!

The pace of change within organizations is operating at a break-neck speed. This week we take a brief look at Rewriting the rules of the digital age: 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and these innovations have completely transformed the way we live, work and communicate.”
– Josh Bersin, principal and founder, Bersin by Deloitte,
Deloitte Consulting LLP

Just five years following its inception, this is the largest and most extensive Deloitte report to date. It includes a survey of more than 10,000 HR and business leaders across 140 countries and reveals new concepts for leading, motivating and training people.
“This workforce is changing. It’s more digital, more global, diverse, automation-savvy, and
social media- proficient. At the same time, business expectations, needs, and demands are evolving
faster than ever before.”

The 2017 report sends a very clear message that organizational success will increasingly depend on building teams of people, instead of the traditional structural hierarchy. Recruitment and talent acquisition are integral to this shift, with HR departments on the frontlines. Their challenge will be to meet the ever-growing demands for talent as the pace of change escalates. The report lists the 10 trends in order of importance; we take a look at the top two.

Trend 1. The Organization of the Future: Arriving now

This trend speaks to replacing the traditional corporate ladder and its chain of command with networks of teams, newly empowered to take action. What is particularly noteworthy about this top-rated trend is that last year’s survey placed the emphasis on designing the new organization; this has now progressed to actively building it. In other words, in one year, organizations have moved from addressing the planning process to actual implementation.
The report supplements each trend with a table that compares the “old rules” that have guided organizational life, with the “new rules” mandatory to move each respective trend forward. These new rules affirm both the survey results and the practices high-performance companies have already introduced. Here’s a sampling from the table for Trend 1, for example:

  • Old: Organized for efficiency and effectiveness,
  • New: Organized for learning, innovation and customer impact
  • Old: Roles and job titles clearly defined
  • New: Teams and responsibilities clearly defined but roles change

Trend 2. Careers and Learning: Real time, all the time

This trend is very much in the air at Corporate Class. Organizations are constantly looking for learning and training that enables employees to build skills that advance their careers. We know Millennials’ expectation is that employers must provide opportunities to learn and progress.
As a footnote to this observation, learning and development (L&D) was in fifth place in Deloitte’s 2016 survey and has now moved up to second position.
Old rules versus new:

  • Old: Careers go “up or out”
  • New: Careers go in every direction
  • Old: Managers direct careers for people
  • New: People find their career direction with help from leaders and others

For all of us engaged in training and coaching people for workplace advancement opportunities, Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends is a fascinating precursor of where our industry is headed: Talent acquisition, performance management, pushing the boundaries of leadership with young leaders, diversity – all are addressed in a very easy-to-read format. We encourage you to explore this insightful undertaking.
Here’s the introduction.
Or, download the pdf