Our Digital Addiction May Be the Downfall of Our Productivity

Digital Addiction If you're like the majority of Americans these days, you're suffering from information overload. You're constantly bombarded by media messages every hour of the day and night, and personal and professional e-mails, texts and tweets come at you round the clock, blurring the boundaries of when exactly you're on that clock.

If you answer a professional e-mail from home at night why not answer a personal e-mail when you're at work during the day? That's just a small one of many of the dilemmas caused by a digital lifestyle.

But it seems to be getting worse by the minute. Results of a Digital Lifestyle Information Survey taken in April 2011 found that continued growth of content and data creation, without new ways to manage it, could create catastrophic results for business productivity and people's personal lives and well being.

The impact is widespread. A stunning 48.5 percent of the survey respondents said that they were connected to the Web "from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed." The majority (64.2 percent) said that the information coming at them today had grown by more than 50 percent compared with last year. A staggering 72.7 percent described their data stream as: "A roaring river," "a flood," or "a massive tidal wave."

Steven Rosenbaum, CEO of Magnify.net and author of 'Curation Nation,' who fielded the survey, says "The impact on the workplace is clear. Workers from all walks of life are online more, and anxious when they're not connected to the Web." And there are numbers to back up this statement:

  • 76.8 percent said "My job requires me to be available online"
  • 50.3 percent said "My clients expect to be able to contact me at all times"
  • 41.2 percent said "I expect my team members to respond to me at all times"
  • 31.6 percent said "When I'm offline, I am anxious that I've missed something"

And the impact is more than just at work -- people's personal lives are impacted as well. Would you believe that 33 percent of respondents said they check e-mails in the middle of the night? Personal time and work time have blurred so much so that even the wee hours of the morning are no longer off limits.

  • 76.7 percent said "I read -emails and respond on evenings and weekends"
  • 57.4 percent said "I never turn off my phone"
  • 43.2 percent said "I will answer texts or e-mails while on a date/social occasion."
  • 35.2 percent said "I will answer work e-mails while with my children"

Rosenbaum says, "The volume of raw data coming at us has increased more than 50 percent in the past 12 months. As more digital devices and software services proliferate, the volume of data and speed of increase will grow exponentially. This simply isn't sustainable. Working harder, or sleeping less are recipes for disaster."

Google's Eric Schmidt has said publicly that we are now creating 5 exabytes of data every three days. That's all the information that was created from the beginning of time through 1978. There's significant empirical evidence to show that the creation of both human- and machine-made data and information will only continue to increase.

"People have reached their capacity to manage data, impacting family, friends, productivity, and even sleep," says Rosenbaum. "Algorithmic solutions (better spam filters, smarter search, more connected devices) will in fact expand the problem, creating more undifferentiated data."

Rosenbaum believes we'll just have to find smarter and better ways to curate. "Human data management, shared and community filtering, and personal recommendations will fulfill individuals' digital identity as content curators -- while allowing content consumers to 'surf' less, and consume curated content delivered to them by trusted sources."

Others believe we're just going to have to find the back bone to turn the damn things off -- force yourself to step away from the computer, the smartphone, the iPad, etc. Start slow -- try not to consult electronic devices for an hour before you go to sleep, and an hour after you get up. Try to turn them off and tune them out completely when you are communicating, face to face with others. Little by little, you can wean yourself away from the digital madness to the point where you control it, rather than letting it control you.


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