In July 2016, a Nielsen report revealed that Americans spend an average of 10.7 hours per day in front of a screen — PC, phone, tablet, TV, etc. — a one-hour increase in only one year.
In December 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 21 percent of Americans are “online almost constantly.”
In August 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the United States’ fertility rate — 59.8 births per 1,000 women age 15 to 44 — was the lowest since record-keeping started in 1909.
Well, no kidding!
OK, that third one really has nothing to do with today’s message, but (a) it’s a really funny juxtaposition (to me, it’s hilarious) and (b) I got your attention, right?
So now that I have your attention, here’s what’s alarming about the first two: If you think for one minute that our increased screen time is unrelated to unpreparedness for a job (or the overall job market), global noncompetitiveness, multiple health issues (vision problems, neck and back conditions, headaches, withdrawal symptoms when away from screens), diminishing attention spans, poor work habits, instant gratification-caused anxiety, general ennui or degenerating social skills, then you’re spending too much time on your screen, too.
In May 2013, I began a major six-part commentary series addressing, as I perceived, extremely broad currents, strong directions, and permanent changes in the American workplace (and culture). They’re not over and done with, I predicted. They are still evolving.
Two of the trends were“How we take in the world” (Part II) and “Obsession with technology” (Part III).
Regarding how we take in the world, I said: “The Internet makes it possible for us to identify, locate and consume just about any piece of information from anywhere in the world, not to mention disseminate it. Optimally, that would lead to a more informed citizenry with all the tools needed to make smart decisions. It would also suggest that we’d become more critical readers and, as an extension, better writers and thinkers. Keep that up for a few generations (or centuries) and we might start resembling Greeks in their Golden Age, right?
“Just the opposite, I’m afraid. Today’s purveyors of information and news have chosen to do their jobs in a way that narrows our scope and noticeably has downgraded our communication skills. With near total control of the news, networks and publications throw it at us — 24/7 — in short, shallow, loud and sensationalistic doses: constantly, invasively, confrontationally and about as far from objectively as possible.
“Likewise, it’s increasingly how we read. We’ve abandoned in-depth, interpretive, contemplative sources of news (and good books, for that matter) in favor of clicking little blue underscored words followed by dropdowns, popups and links to more of the same. We scan instead of read, and if we can’t do it in seconds (never mind minutes or hours), we don’t even try. And it had better be at about a seventh-grade reading level, or we won’t do that either.”
And then there’s our technology obsession. An obsession, I offered, “is a compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea. Next question: what do we mean by preoccupation? To preoccupy is to dominate or engross the mind to the exclusion of other thoughts. Repeat: the exclusion of other thoughts.
“Extended, this behavior leads to a global pandemic of dissatisfaction with satisfaction; with a compulsion to have the latest software, app or add-on to replace one that hasn’t been fully mastered yet and doesn’t need replacement; to upgrade to the latest smartphone simply because the fierce competition makes you forget your basic needs while feeding your latest desires … and to be immersed in many of these at the same time, creating a condition which, in 1998, Linda Stone called ‘continuous partial attention.’”
I then referred to Iowa State University’s professor Michael Bugeja, who professed that the availability of media invites abuse, and when these abuses become habitual, these actions cease to be taboo. Bugeja called this “digital displacement: what happens when the demands of the real world conflict with those of the virtual.”
Finally: “The result in the workplace is that many employees arrive each day in technology-induced comas. Where are their ideas, initiatives? What contributions will they make to their organizations, if any? And do the people who hire them care? Or even know? Or are they, too, obsessed? Addicted?”
So here we are, four years deeper into these trends, and fertility rate doesn’t seem like our biggest problem, you know?
Career coach and corporate adviser Eli Amdur has been authoring his weekly “Career Coach” column since 2003 and is the author of his acclaimed career advice book”It’s Not So Far From Here to There: The thinking person’s guide to well-managed career.” Adjunct professor of two graduate-level leadership courses at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, he also is active on the speaker circuit, delivering presentations on today’s critical employment and leadership issues. Visit his website at www.amdurcoaching.com.