DIGITALIZATION – A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

24. October 2016 / general
resilience

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One of my seven pillars of resilience is stay focused. This requires great skill in today’s world of work, where we are constantly being interrupted and find it hard to concentrate because of the beeping of SMS messages, the pinging of incoming e-mails, the sound of WhatsApp alerts, etc. Digitalization clearly offers us benefits – such as the flexibility of being able to communicate with others at any time in any place. However, many people can’t cope with the challenges this brings.

Digital communication and the fact that we are constantly available are good in some respects: This compels us to make decisions about what is important and to decide what we want to focus on. It also gives us greater flexibility in terms of time and place. We can work where and when we want. We can collaborate with virtual teams on projects and bundle our knowledge in order to arrive at a solution more rapidly. Digitalization also creates benefits in our private lives: we can arrange to meet friends at short notice, make last-minute travel arrangements and much much more.

On the other hand, many people are unable to make sensible use of these benefits and, instead, develop a real addiction to all things digital. For example, 80% of smartphone users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking to see if they have any messages. And 60% of smartphone users check work e-mails right up until bedtime. It is no wonder that 81% feel stressed by the fact that they are expected to be constantly available, even in their free time.

 

2.5 hours of mobile phone use each day

In Switzerland, people tend to look at their mobile phones around 90 times a day – usually without finding a new message – and smartphone users check Facebook an average of 14 daily each day. Do they really gain anything from this? Probably not. The University of Bonn carried out a study involving 60,000 smartphone users, which found that the average amount of time they spent on their mobiles was around 2.5 hours per day. Every 18 minutes, we stop what we are doing in order to look at our phones. We allow ourselves to be constantly distracted by the beeping or ringing of incoming e-mails, SMS messages or WhatsApp. We don’t even take the time to think properly and we feel that we need to send an immediate answer. This has a negative impact in two ways: First, chronic interruptions make us inefficient, since we have to repeatedly try to refocus our attention on what we are doing. Second, these continuous interruptions result in a no-flow, which leaves us feeling rather dissatisfied.

The obsession with checking messages and keeping up with the latest posts or news has taken on extreme dimensions. Around a year ago, Swiss lifeguards issued an appeal to parents in swimming pools, warning them to keep their eyes on their children and not on their smartphones and laptops. The number of cases in which children had to be saved from drowning because the parents were distracted by digital devices had risen sharply. It is important to know that it can take just 20 seconds for a small child to drown – without a sound. And if that is not shocking enough, consider this: the constant checking of mails and social media causes a short-term drop in IQ of around 10 percentage points – twice as much as the consumption of marijuana. In other words, the use of mobile media really ‘dumbs us down’.

 

The Internet is harmful to your health

But that is not all: medical studies carried out at the Stanford Calming Technology Lab have shown that simply surfing the Net causes our breathing to become shallower or we may even pause for breath. This reduces the supply of oxygen to the brain, thus impairing our ability to function. The consequences are clear: according to the German study ‘The digitalization of society 2014’, 35% of participants responded that digitalization has a significant effect on their health. This is not surprising, since seven out of ten people surveyed admitted that they also leave their smartphones turned on at night. Being online 24 hours a day simply cannot be good for our health.

Why are we so dependent on all things digital and what can we do to counter this trend? How can we strike the right balance between online and offline presence in our everyday life? Read my next blog to find out more!

 

© Claudia Kraaz

 

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