Is Technology Addiction Creating a New Digital Divide?
Why rich people go low-tech, and how this tech addiction may be here to stay.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
As an entrepreneur, you can rarely afford to unplug. If you want the best opportunities at your fingertips, you need to build credibility and connections online. Also, you can't afford to stop checking your inbox, media feed or calendar and project management apps, lest an important opportunity slip through.
Is it OK to use technology 24/7, though?
Apps are designed to be addictive - think of YouTube's endless stream of recommendations, LinkedIn and Twitter's notifications systems, Netflix's uninterrupted streaming. But tech overuse causes unhappiness for kids and adults alike.
Many experts within and outside of the tech world know of these dangers, and try to moderate the role of technology in their private lives. They avoid using the latest gadgets, limit their kids' screen time, and send them to Waldorf schools. These schools favor hands-on learning and cultivating imagination, so children don't get to use computers until their early teenage years.
Technology Addiction 101
Modern technology makes use of an age-long human weakness: behavioural addictions. Instead of injecting a substance, you directly get a pleasurable feeling every time you plug in - whether playing a game or scrolling down an endless feed. This is your brain's reward for repeating a low-cost activity that brings you a lot of value (e.g. posting a status on Facebook and getting a slew of comments). Modern technology makes it easier for people to engage in traditionally addicting activity - gambling, compulsive shopping - while also introducing new habits such as binge-watching, browsing on your smartphone, or keeping close tabs on your social media likes, each of which generates a rush of pure dopamine.
Innovative apps and websites are undoubtedly useful. But a lot of people get hooked, especially to social media. Some experts, like former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris, are alarmed that technology is going to keep demanding more attention from us. "Every time you open an app, there are 1,000 engineers behind it trying to keep you using it." he says.
Dorie Clark, the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out (named 2015's #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc.'s Geoffrey James) compares this issue to alcohol companies' marketing strategies a century ago. To maximize profit, they had to get people addicted. Over time, the dangers to public health became clear, but prohibition also wasn't the answer. Alcohol brands finally resolved the issue by taking a socially responsible stance and keeping their product away from minors. "I think that's probably an analogy of the type of dance the social media companies are going to have to do," concludes Clark.
The New Digital Divide
Up until now, unequal access to technology and information has been a big problem. But this so-called Digital Divide gap is closing quickly in Western cultures: as of 2017, more than 70% of US low-income families report having a computer at home. Almost half of American children aged up to 8 have their own tablet (as opposed to 1% in 2011). That's a pretty astonishing growth rate.
Nowadays, the question is more of how technology is being used. Wealthy business owners continuously outsource their work overseas because it's cheaper. This tendency grew swiftly thanks to books like Tim Ferris's Four-Hour Workweek. The bottom line? High earners get to sit back and let others do the screen work for them, and can easily unplug from technology on their days off.
Dorie Clark gets it across succinctly when I sat down to interview her for FUTUREPROOF. - the podcast about the future of everything. "I actually think that in some ways this is going to be the next frontier, sort of like if we think about class-based divisions," she says, "where the rich people are eating really healthy organic food from Whole Foods and the poor people are eating Big Macs."
You can listen to the whole episode here:
Addiction is nothing new for people; it's been hardwired into our brains for millennia now. However, modern technologies are providing us with brilliantly designed distractions at a pace we've never seen before. It's not just media hype; it's a danger to our society. The only question is how good of a job we'll do at reining this addiction in before it gets much worse.