August 04, 2015

Are You A Screen Addict? How To Tell If Your Device Is Controlling You


It was an interesting realisation. I was sitting with a leading businessman over dinner, and kept feeling the gentle buzz on my wrist. Every few seconds I would glance down at my lap discreetly and look at the time. But it wasn’t really the time I was looking at. I was waiting for my daughter to text. 
Yes, I’m the proud owner of an Apple Watch. Although it has its limitations, the feeling of being gently buzzed is an exquisite new luxury. Bing when you need to stand up; bing bong when you make a wrong turn; Zzzz when someone emails, messages or texts. A quick lift or tap tells you whether it’s worth reaching for your iPhone and disturbing the conversation or not.

But somewhere in the middle of the 100th lift/tap I realised the degree to which I’d become a device addict. The new watch was supposed to stop me reaching for the mobile phone when in company — I think that is rude and intrusive. But the habit is now 10 times worse than before. My eyes are never off the watch. At the chiropractor the other day, face up, I managed to read my watch despite the excruciating pain I was in. I ­became too distracted to move my body when I was asked to. He got angry. “Oh, please don’t let me disturb you!”

I have FOBO (Fear of Being Offline). A new disorder where we get withdrawals, panic attacks and fear at the thought of going without a hit. 

I would also like to put forward my own disorder: FOBON (Fear of Being Online), due to a sense of loss of control I have when ­obsessed with my device. I’m more frightened on it than off because when tweeting or sending/reading messages, I find myself distracted from life and I miss crucial points in movie plots or conversations. Recently I was at a picnic having a fantastic time. I glanced at my Apple Watch and became glum because of an upsetting email. Everyone asked what was wrong. I said “nothing”, then drank too much.

My dinner partner, Allan Platcher, founder of APA management services and former financial officer of large multinational firms such as Unilever and Transfield, says, “The ­moment I look at my messages and emails, I go off somewhere and can’t come back. I have to turn off my mobile phone for dedicated periods each day to get work done or even drive because I end up down the wrong streets.”

As he speaks, my hands get sweaty. Turn it off? You mean Off-OFF? For how long?

Recent research by an Iowa university reveals people feel “worried and nervous” when they can’t communicate instantly and feel “scared” about running out of batteries. A Gallup poll confirmed that 81 per cent of people keep their smartphones with them ­almost all the time during waking hours and 63 per cent while they are asleep. A whopping 60 per cent check emails regularly while on holidays. Then there’s me with it strapped to my body like a booby trap.

The phenomenon has become so prevalent there is a new breed of corporate life coach and adviser popping up to help. There are also online resources that can help us write texts and emails that don’t cause offence and can attract the right response, because tone of voice cannot be replaced with emojis, research says. There are software products analysing the tone of received emails so your style can mimic theirs (ie, do they prefer point form?).

Meanwhile, last weekend I went out for a Japanese meal. The scene next to me was horrifying: a family — two parents and two kids — all on their mobiles ignoring each other over dinner.

Sydney clinical psychologist David Gilfillan says we are getting more removed from intimacy as phones and devices distract us from the beauty and complexities of life.

But it’s as much an escape as ­alcohol or any other drug.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Gilfillan says. “People reach for their smartphones because they are bored or lonely but get lonelier because of their phones. They detach from others in order to find connection and forgo hobbies and intimacy. The most pressing problem today is loneliness and mobile technology isn’t helping. God knows where it is all taking us.”

Experts say there is a distinct brain chemical component to this. Dopamine, the chemical of addiction, is at play. Picking up the phone is like pulling a lever. Did I win the jackpot? We are all chasing a hit 24/7 and it’s making us exhausted from chemical overload: no off button, literally.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, is one of the world’s leading authorities on our relationship with technology. He has written about the subject for three decades, including his 2012 book iDisorder: Understanding our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us. He believes our smartphones and devices are causing us to suffer from anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder, and says we think we are in control but it’s controlling us. He advises not responding to notifications, instead turning on the phone and checking when it suits us.

It’s affecting our working lives, too. Neuroscientific studies show that mobile devices cause less productivity in the workforce because of the distraction, says Rasmus Hougaard, of international corporate adviser The Potential Project. “Multi-tasking is a myth,” he says. “It’s not good for performance. It’s like having too many browsers open in the brain at the same time.” Hougaard has taught the likes of Sony and GE employees to switch off.

There are worse problems for younger people. Rosen surveyed his students and discovered most unlocked their phone 60 or 70 times a day for an average of about three minutes a time.

Leading the charge to help kids is Susan Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, who believes the prefrontal cortex, which governs empathy and compassion, needs social nourishment to grow and develop synaptic connections. Social contact includes our observing of facial smiles, sneers, flushes, changing voice tone, and pheromones, the smells we emit that give signals to others. She worries about what will happen to young brains without physical intimacy in communication. She predicts increasing narcissism for us all.

Meanwhile, my heart breaks every time the phone cries like a needy infant and it’s not mine. But as the saying goes, “It took you a long time to fall in love; it will take you a long time to fall out of it.”

By Ruth Ostrow

With many thanks to The Australian 

 So is it leading to this?

Wi-Fi and 4G is embedded in their DNA. The internet is their lifeblood, as essential as eating and breathing.

We’re told that kids and teens living in this computer age are smarter than ever before. Some write their own apps, with children as young as six learning to code. But challenge a Digital Age genius to pump up a bike tyre, or boil an egg and you might as well have asked them to go to the moon. They simply have no idea.

Basic life skills are on the endangered list, with fewer young adults able to perform simple tasks like sorting their laundry or ironing a shirt, and it’s a disturbing trend that’s only getting worse.

I can’t tell you how many teenagers I know who are worryingly incapable when it comes to essential housekeeping duties.

One close friend of mine was recently gobsmacked when she asked her 16-year-old son to hand write a thankyou note and post it.

Not only had he never before addressed an envelope, he had no clue where to place the stamp.

“He had only ever used his email, or text messages, when thanking people,” she ashamedly revealed.

This alarming lack of basic knowledge when it comes to performing menial tasks is now a major problem for many small business owners, struggling to find competent apprentices.
“You can have these smart, educated kids turning up for work — but they have absolutely no practical life skills,” says Sydney plumber Steve Kowaleczko.

“They’re young adults who’ve never had to do a single thing for themselves.
“I’m talking about Year 10 kids who still have their school lunch boxes packed by Mum, their rugby gear washed and laid out for them and toothpaste squeezed on their toothbrush every morning.

“A lot of these kids just can’t cope in the real world,” he says.
It’s a sentiment shared by Social Researcher Mark McCrindle, who believes the life challenges faced by our young men in particular, are greater than ever before.

A few years back, he published a report into Gen Y, that showed traditional “bloke skills” like fixing a leaky tap, putting up a shelf, lighting a wood fire and changing a car’s oil were all on the decline.

“And in 2015, things are no better when it comes to young people performing basic tasks,” he says.

“The problem we face is that our kids have amazing digital and academic skills, but those talents aren’t balanced out with domestic and life skills.

“Our children can build a magnificent world on Minecraft, but many have no clue how to build a real cubby house.

“They’re growing up with no knowledge of the traditional skills required to become self-sufficient adult,” he says.

As parents, we have to accept some of the responsibility.

One woman I know openly admits to making her daughter a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice every morning. And when her teenager hops into the shower, her mother makes her bed, places out a clean uniform — and has a toasted ham and cheese sandwich waiting for the walk to the bus stop.

“It’s important that she focuses on her studies, so she can get into university and become successful,” the mum admits.

“Learning how to roast a chook, or bake a cake from scratch, or change a car tyre just isn’t high on our list of priorities.”

Parents are working harder, longer hours than ever before. And those of us who enjoy a healthy income can employ others to do our domestic skills. House cleaners, takeaway meals and taking vehicles to the car wash means our kids aren’t getting the hands-on experiences they need.

McCrindle says this outsourcing is compounding the life skills problem, along with the fact our children are living at home until they are well into their mid — or late 20s.
“Kids are dependent for longer,” he says.

“They’re living in households where things like the cooking and the cleaning are just automatically done for them by mum — or by the hired help.”

So what’s the answer?

A father of five himself, McCrindle believes introducing a “life skills” program into schools might be one option.

“I’m of the strong opinion that our kids need less screen time — and more real world time,” he says. “As a parent, I think the most important task we need to focus on is teaching self reliance to our kids.

“When they have a flat tyre on their bike, show them how to fix it. Instead of a pizza home delivery, make one. Practical life skills are vital when it comes to surviving — and thriving in society.”

Here’s a list of basic life skills our kids should have down pat by the time they are 18.
* Cook (don’t just open and pour) a proper breakfast, lunch and dinner.
* Wash and iron clothes.
* Drive a car.
* Change bed linen weekly.
* Clean a bathroom.
* Know what a fuse box looks like and how to reset it.
* Know which tools perform what functions and how to use them.
* Maintain a fitness regime.
* Read a map.
* Understand basic first aid and know CPR.
* Create and keep a budget.
* Understand the risks of credit cards.

By Anna Taylor 
with thanks to The Herald Sun