Last week I left my mobile phone at home. I struggled all day, as I impatiently waited for the board at the station to tell me which platform to go to instead of checking in advance on my way into the station; emailed my friend to negotiate where to meet after work; and followed the outline of a tall building in the hope that it was the client office I had never been to before. I found it ridiculous that I could barely last a day without my little ‘tech tool for everything’.
Safe to say I didn’t give up my phone for Lent… but it got me thinking about how much we all unconsciously rely on tech, but more importantly whether this reliance is healthy? I made the train, successfully met my friend and found my way to the client building but I’d almost forgotten how to function without my mobile!
Turns out it’s not just me having this internal debate over whether I rely on tech too much; more and more leading entrepreneurs are sharing their recommendations for tech detoxes, and with the World Health Organisation adding gaming disorder to its list of mental health conditions in the International Classification of Diseases, perhaps we should be taking this more seriously.
Interviews with major tech CEOs surprised some when they found out that the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limited how much tech their kids could use at home due to the addictive power of digital technology. This month has seen further reports of the techiest parents in Silicon Valley enforcing strict rules on their children’s screen time.
Belinda Parmer, Founder of Lady Geek, a business consultancy firm that works to make technology more accessible to women and girls spoke out about the dangers of technological addiction.
Belinda’s business was based entirely around shortening the tech skills gap and encouraging girls into the industry. However she soon noticed her unhealthy relationship with social media. A case of tech addiction close to home has pushed her towards launching a campaign to raise awareness of technological addiction.
Brand loyalty is lucrative and the worry is, are some companies spending money to market to children in the hope that they will be lifelong users? To date, there’s been a lot of attention around this issue in the food and drink industries, but it applies to the technology industry too. For example some Silicon Valley parents are seeing not just behavioural issues from too much ‘screen time’ but are also concerned that important traditional skills and social skills are being lost.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom – experts agree that abstinence isn’t the way forward. After all it seems somewhat counterproductive to the tech skills gaps we have all been so desperately trying to decrease. Instead, we need to learn digital resilience and keep our relationships with tech controlled, and in turn healthy.
Schools such as Brightworks in San Francisco, were set up to take teaching back to its roots and keep kids away from too much screen time. The school aims to use real tools, materials and problems to encourage learning, curiosity and ability to engage in the real world, away from screens. Vital skills which are required for careers in industries such as ours where the next generation are looking increasingly likely to struggle with basic content writing and communication skills if they don’t use tech in a measured way.
As well as encouraging current and future employees to embrace the basics of technology, we need to stress the importance of balance. It is important the comms industry promotes STEM education, without creating a generation solely reliant on tech. Of course, finding that balance is a challenge. With CEOs such as Marc Benioff using analogies such as treat social media like a health issue, in need of regulation and comparable to tobacco and sugar, attention is being drawn to the topic.
What is clear, and vital to a career in the fourth industrial revolution era, is that, as with most things, tech should be used in moderation. We should utilise it for the skills it can teach and develop in people, but also be wary of those it can take away.
Enya Lumley, Technology
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January 21, 2021