Over half of respondents in 19 countries including the U.S. say they are concerned about their own and society's overreliance on technology; a sentiment closely shared between both prosumers – consumers on the leading edge of technology – and the broader set of consumers according to a Euro RSCG study[i].
This concern is particularly relevant to digital natives (e.g., consumers who have grown up with mobile technology). A Time Inc. study found that digital natives subconsciously move between devices and platforms like TVs, magazines, tablets, smartphones or channels within platforms a whopping 27 times per hour[ii].
To put this in perspective, research from the National Cyber Security Alliance[iii] found kids are spending eight hours of their day – or half their waking hours – online.
If we multiply the daily hours spent online by the frequency in which youth switch between devices or platforms, it means the average older child or teen is switching focus 216 times a day.
It's no wonder that 46 percent of consumers report that their online activity is often distracting, and 30 percent say the internet interferes with their family life.
The always-connected lifestyle is taking a toll
In addition to the frequent feelings of distractions and the interference with family time:
64 percent of consumers in the Euro RSCG study also reported concern about society's fast pace.
56 percent are concerned with technology and information overload; nearly half of respondents say they spend too much time rushing online and not enough time simply enjoying their lives[iv].
56 percent of women and 53 percent of men say they worry that digital communications are weakening human-to-human bonds.
66 percent of women and men report a concern for society’s loss of face-to-face interaction.
This concern over the loss of face-to-face time is not just a perception. Thirty-nine percent of Americans spend more time socializing online than in person, according survey results by Badoo in April 2012[v].
The Time study also found that 65 percent of digital natives “take their devices from room to room with them, saying that smartphones are the first thing they reach for when they wake up and when they leave home. Smartphones are also the first device digital natives will think of having close at hand when home, and the first they will turn to if they wake up in the middle of the night.”
Yet, 56 percent of prosumers and 51 percent of mainstream consumers say they enjoy deliberately taking breaks from their phones and mobile devices.
Concern over digital technologies is also apparent in respondents’ answers regarding the impact of technology with only 47 percent of consumers saying they believe technology will make their lives better, vs. 44 percent who say it’s too soon to tell, and 10 percent who are convinced technology will make life worse.
The view from the prosumer side is somewhat more positive with 58 percent of prosumers saying they believe that technology will make life better vs. 34 percent who aren’t sure and 7 percent who believe it will make life worse.
How families’ digital use impacts their relationships
Do you miss milestones in your kids’ lives because you were too focused on your phone rather than on the soccer ball? A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in May 2010 found that one in seven married respondents said the use of internet-connected devices was causing them to see less of their spouse, and one in ten indicated that technology causes them to spend less time with their children under 18[vi]. The issue has become so commonplace that child development experts have begun to research distracted parenting and the ways in which parents’ use of technology affects their children.
Dr. Peggy Kendall, author and associate professor in the Communication Studies Department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, says, “There are two primary ways that children generally respond to a parent distracted by technology. Some kids choose to act out to force the attention back to them, through physical misbehavior (hitting, biting or kicking) to demand the attention they are lacking.
Others, though, feel ignored, displaced and unworthy of attention each time their parent favors technology over interaction. [They feel] a little less worthy every time their parent takes that call. And you can be sure that when those children grow up, they will do the exact same thing with the people who are important in their lives.”
The documented effects of high use of technology among children included a decreased interest in homework and school, resulting in lower grades; higher rates of obesity; diminished capacity for intimacy and face-to-face interaction; lower self-esteem; as well as higher levels of boredom, sadness, aggression and irritability when they are not engaged with technology[vii].
You can manage your own and your family’s digital data intake
Begin by evaluating your own technology habits and those of other family members, and look at ways to carve out technology free time. Chances are you’re just as bad as your kids when it comes to technology distractions.
Many families already restrict the amount of computer time allowed on school days and weekends or holidays. Consider including restrictions to mobile phone use that aren’t directly tied to making calls; be sure to include online gaming and social networking. Another opportunity is to make mealtimes entirely technology free – no calls, texts or other distractions so you as a family can focus on your own conversations.
Provide opportunities for activities like sports, music lessons, dance, face-to-face play time with friends, family activities and games, and reading time to give healthy alternatives to sitting in front of a screen.
Then talk to your kids about keeping a healthy balance between these kinds of activities and online forms of entertainment. Perhaps you make one evening a week a family game night with traditional activities like board games some weeks and online games that the whole family can play together during other weeks.
The needs of each child and family are unique, but if you take some time you’ll find what works for yours.
[i] Euro RSCG Worldwide April 2012
[iv] According to April 2012 survey results from Gyro, 85% of senior executives in the US and Europe at least occasionally send and receive work-related emails and have business discussions during vacations.
[vi] “Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price” New York Times