Last week my friend "Julie" and I finally went out to dinner. I had not seen her for a couple of months and we were particularly excited to have a chance to spend some quality time together. No sooner did we sit down at our table than out came her Blackberry. I felt a twinge in my chest, but held my tongue. A few minutes later, I was sharing some exciting news with her and heard that irritating text sound go off. She immediately reached out to check the message and began to respond. I suddenly felt invisible; it was as if I didn't exist. When she finished, I asked her if there was an emergency or something critical that she needed to attend to. She said yes but gave me no further details. A few minutes later her text went off and she responded again. At that point I requested that -- unless there was a life or death issue, I'd appreciate it if she turned her phone off. I could see how hard it was for her to let it go. It was clear to me that there was no emergency, and that my otherwise very sensitive and caring friend was at the mercy of this little gadget.
We are all aware of how helpful, expedient and efficient our various technological devices can be. But what is not so clear is how they may be affecting our minds, our attitudes, and our relationships.
A 2010 New York Times article on this subject reported, "...exposure to technology may be slowly reshaping your personality. Some experts believe excessive use of the Internet, cellphones and other technologies can cause us to become more impatient, impulsive, forgetful and even more narcissistic." While the article goes on to state that researchers are not ready to call excessive users "addicted," the term "technology dependence" is creeping into the psychology vernacular.
One way to tell whether people are addicted to a particular drug or behavior is to see their reaction when you ask them to stop engaging in it for a period of time. Typically, they declare that they can quit whenever they want to. If you challenge them further by asking them to prove it, their usual response is, "I don't have to; I know I can quit whenever I want, I just don't want to right now."
It doesn't matter if the person is addicted to alcohol, pot, exercise, work, or anything else; when people are in denial about their addiction, they are not lying to you, they are lying to themselves.
Do you see yourself in "Julie"? How is technology affecting your relationships? Do you think you could turn off, unplug, and see the difference it makes?
Here's a call to action: The Offlining initiative was started by two NYC marketing veterans and self-proclaimed tech addicts who have spent a large part of the last 20 years trying to get us to log on, click here, search this and that, and use technology every which way. Mark DiMassimo & Eric Yaverbaum are "born again humans" who woke up one day from their techno-daze and realized that they have families and friends who are hungry to spend some quality time with them. To repent for their technology-pushing behaviors that have contributed to so much digital-dependency, they are now asking people to take a pledge and discontinue use of all technology devices for one day a week (or if that's too much for you, at least on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day!). Since its launch last Father's Day, one-quarter of a million people have sent Offlining's free E-cards to family, friends and colleagues, reminding them to use the Off Button from time to time, and over 11,000 have taken the online pledge.
This Valentine's Day, will you? Or do you not need to because you can "quit whenever you want?"