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Tethered to Technology

Editor's Note: Take a look at our featured best practice, Digital Transformation Strategy (145-slide PowerPoint presentation). Digital Transformation is being embraced by organizations across most industries, as the role of technology shifts from being a business enabler to a business driver. This has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Thus, to remain competitive and outcompete in today's fast paced, [read more]

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Note from the Editor:  This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle’s Business Weekly and is re-posted with their permission.  It was contributed by Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof(R).

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tttToday, The Practical Prof makes a stunning revelation:  I suffer from a serious syndrome known as TTT – Tethered To Technology.

Here’s how I know. I currently manage:  9 social media accounts including Twitter, LinkedIn, and multiple Facebook pages or groups; 7 different email accounts – 6 of which are business, and one for community and personal activities; 4 different websites; two laptops, a desktop computer, an iPad, a smartphone and a landline phone with four extensions.

Ridiculous? Yes. Alone? Nope. Sadly, there are many who suffer with me. Let’s look at some consumer data from Civic Science based on about 9000 responses:

  • 64% use a smartphone
  • 43% own a tablet computer
  • 28% own an e-reader
  • 52% watch 2 or more hours of TV per day, not so surprising perhaps, but nearly half of those people are multi-tasking with a second screen device – checking email, playing games, sending texts

Plus, the same study reports that 60% of people with technology never (43%) or seldom (a few times per year) (17%) disconnect from their technology. While there seems to be no demographic pattern to who unplugs, children 13-18 and people over 55 are the most likely to disconnect daily.

But, isn’t technology making our lives easier, making communication faster, and the quality of communication better? Perhaps. But, I worry that in a time when we have never had more ways to communicate, we have never been less communicative. Here are some of the drawbacks I see to being tethered to technology.

First, because we use technology doesn’t mean we’re good at it. Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – are very experienced in digital communications. However, a well-researched and documented 2014 Fortune article by Hootsuite founder and CEO, Ryan Holmes indicates this generation could benefit from honing up on these social media skills: self-censoring their content and comments: wasting less time, instead of saving time; knowing what data to collect; adeptly integrating networks; and, actually using the media to network professionally.

Second, an “addiction” to technology can be detrimental to our psyche. For example, a 2007 Psychology Today article by Carlin Flora claims that the “ubiquity of cellphones” and the instance access it creates between people may actually make us less independent and able to rely on our inner resources, while becoming not only more dependent on others but on the devices themselves. The article suggests that we first consider the issue, problem, etc. on our own first, then, reaching out to a trusted person for advice strengthens our self-reliance, rather than substituting for it.

Third, is narcissism. A provocative 2013 article by Alexis Brooks, on ConsciousLifeNews.com, suggests social media might be a breeding ground for narcissism, given one’s ability to self-promote and become self-absorbed on platforms like Facebook. Interesting way to see it – after all, we are the “stars” of our various social media profiles. Additionally, Brooks encourages us to find our “inner technology”, the one where our Inner Sensory Perception, not Internet Service Provider, is the source of our reliance.

All things considered, when we are tethered to technology as I have been, I don’t think our communication quality is much better, unless we do the work to ensure its quality. If it were, we would listen more carefully, meet and talk face-to-face more frequently and empathize and understand more fully in the communications we have. While technology can help as a tool, it is the means, not the end.

Can we fight the technology trend? A 2010 ABC News report offers hope.  They found that when parents provide even minimal guidelines, it has a real impact on their kid’s media consumption. It drops by nearly three hours a day – from 10.5 to 7.5. If this works for kids, certainly, mature, self-disciplined adults should have no problem, right?

By the way, if less dependency on technology is worrisome because you’re concerned that this reduction will negatively impact your business’ sales, here’s a point to ponder. Millennials  (18-33 year olds) are a tech savvy communicative generation. The internet is their number one catalyst for sparking their interest in a particular manufacturer’s brand, for example, and leads to conversations about brands which account for 689 million word of mouth (WOM) impressions per day. Interestingly, 84% of these impressions are as a result of mostly face-to-face offline conversations, according to the latest research from the Keller Fay Group.

We can re-establish and strengthen good ole fashion face-to-face quality communication. Here are some ways to consider in un-tethering yourself from technology:

Disconnect Regularly

Establish a regular time, however brief, when you are away from or turn off technology. My time is when I take Rafaelle for a walk.  It’s un-nerving at first, but then being in the moment with my pooch is comfortable. If you can’t do it on your own, consider Digital Detox Camp. Yes, that’s right, there really is such a place (in Northern California, surprisingly) where you can go to as they say, “disconnect to reconnect.”  That CivicScience study also indicated that those who disconnect report higher happiness, less trouble sleeping and tend to exercise more.

Don’t Hide Behind Technology

Don’t hide behind technology when you really should talk, meet or listen in person. You know those times – when you want to send an email to a co-worker because you fear their reaction to the message you must communicate; when you want to ignore or dismiss another’s concern or input; when you don’t want to take the time to explain or understand; and, when you think a virtual “good job” is enough acknowledgement because it’s not you on the receiving end.

Be a Role-Model

Millennials are our future. Be the role model they need to learn how to respect and perpetuate quality communication. Show our emerging managers and leaders the benefits of investing the time and energy in communication that is person-centered and technology-assisted.

I hope this lesson provided an opportunity to reflect and assess your own vulnerability to TTT.  We can beat it – together, face-to-face!

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About Dr. Santo D. Marabella

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor of management at Moravian College and president of Marabella Entertainment & Education Enterprises LLC. His book, “The Practical Prof: Simple Lessons for Anyone Who Works!” is a collection of his Business Weekly columns. Contact him at Santo@ThePracticalProf.com.

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