ShareVision Blog

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The Golden Age of Smartphones?


During a recent binge watch of several “Mad Men” episodes on Netflix, I pondered how smoking was depicted on the show. How carefree and confidently they were all enjoying cigarettes! How accepted, condoned, and even gloriously portrayed it was within the popular culture of the time. Hell it practically made me want to smoke again. Then it made me think of smartphones, and that maybe we are all currently existing in a comparable golden age of smoking with them.

We have ALL heard that technology overuse can be hazardous to our health, but we seem to respond to any warnings the same way our smoking forefathers did, with the casual, “sure it might be harmful, but not to me” attitude.  Are we actually addicted to our phones? Are they truly hazardous to our health? And are there future technology-caused cancers looming in our collective futures? Experts disagree on this one:

Smartphones are hazardous to your health!

Smartphones are safe!

We may or may not be physically addicted to our smartphones like smokers, but we do accessorize them, we sleep with them beside us, and we panic when we lose them. They have become our friends, our familiars. The smartphone accessory business alone is a 20 billion dollar per year industry.

Health warnings and conspiracy theories aside, there may be a better reason to take regular breaks from your smartphone. How many of us have worked while on vacation, answered emails or texts in the evening, or been woken by our phones before breakfast? In the non-profit world, we now all take our work with us everywhere we go by default. A client emergency or critical incident can be responded to from anywhere in the world (ok as long as you have cell reception, so maybe not in a rustic hut in rural Nepal). But taking our phones with us everywhere, never really allows us to be “off work” even when we are no longer at work. Constantly being available can actually negatively affect us. It creates a constant pressure for our attention and takes away from our ability to relax fully, and we hardly notice. 

Even non-work-related applications, like social media, can cause us mild, yet constant stress. Staying on top of your blog reader, Twitter feed, incoming texts and emails; saps energy away from more important tasks, demanding our attention, time, and focus. The information flow scatters us into a perpetual state that Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention”.

“Like so many things, in small doses, continuous partial attention can be a very functional behavior. However, in large doses, it contributes to a stressful lifestyle, to operating in crisis management mode, and to a compromised ability to reflect, to make decisions, and to think creatively. In a 24/7, always-on world, continuous partial attention used as our dominant attention mode contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, over-stimulation and to a sense of being unfulfilled. We are so accessible, we’re inaccessible”.

So a phenomenon neither good nor bad, but simple there, and possibly adding another layer of low level stress to our busy NGO working lives. Sure we can yoga it up, meditate, kayak, climb mountains in Nepal, jog, stay hydrated and eat well – but stress can sabotage even the seemingly healthiest of lives. 

Finding a way to “unplug” yourself even if it’s just for a few hours every day, can give you and your sensitive neuro-pathways a break and time to recharge. Most importantly you will be provided with the opportunity to be alone with your thoughts and potentially gain some perspective on the latest work emergency or social drama.  Everyone knows stress isn’t good for us, even if it is kind of sexy and everyone, including Don Draper, is doing it.

Topics: Technology