Look, I love technology that makes work, and life, a little easier. I love that my Apple Watch will remind me when it's time to take out the trash or pick up my daughter from soccer practice. Here's the thing though--as a parent, I probably shouldn't have to depend on a $400 piece of smart technology to remind me to, you know, show up.
Except, unfortunately, I do.
I know I'm not the only one either. In fact, more and more we depend on smart technology to do a lot of things. Smart technology is any device that we interact with that does some form of thinking for us. In many ways it's great. It often saves us time, keeps us on task, and alerts us to the important information we need.
The downside is that I've noticed that as our dependence on technology increases, our actual productivity decreases. I think technology is really good at making it easier to stay busy, but busy isn't the same thing as productive.
1. Notifications are basically technology's drug.
Every app on my phone wants to send me notifications. It's great because they all have so much important information they need to share with me to help me be more productive. Except, all I do all day is tap icons with red dots like a digital version of whack-a-mole, trying to get rid of all the notifications. Research has shown that this constant stimulation on our devices raises the dopamine in our brains, which basically means they are like drugs.
And the problem with drugs is that just like notifications, they are really hard to resist.
It'll make you feel good for a moment, but it also makes you anxious, causes cravings, and ends in withdrawal. All of which is also true about the fix that comes with constant notifications. It's why the average person checks their smartphone 80-150 times per day according to recent research. It's hard to be productive when you stop to look at your phone every 10-12 minutes.
2. It's making us dumber.
It's true, technology has allowed us to do some pretty incredible things. I can't argue with the fact that it has allowed us to solve problems that were previously insurmountable, but at a very basic level, all of this smart technology has made us dumb. Mostly, I think it's because of how much we now depend on it for even the most basic things.
Quick, tell me who was the first woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company--without using Google.
Here's the thing. If you don't use a muscle, after a while you'll lose it. Sure, it's not technically a muscle, but if you stop using your brain because your watch tells you when it's time to go to a meeting, or stand up, or use the bathroom-- can we at least agree you're not getting any smarter? The more we hand over to machines what makes us unique as humans--our ability to think, process, and make decisions--the less we stretch and grow our capacity to do those things.
It was Katherine Graham at The Washington Post, by the way.
3. We connect with technology, not people.
Have you ever sat in a restaurant and looked around? Of course not, the last time you were in a restaurant you were busy looking at your phone. But if you had, you would have seen a bunch of other people who were doing the same thing. A room full of people, all sitting at tables with presumably other people they know and have some level of affection for, staring at an illuminated screen.
Technology has made the world smaller in many ways, by bringing us access to the world--in a device that fits in our pocket. Also, I wouldn't publish very many articles if I had to travel to New York to hand them over to an editor in person. Technology has certainly made this part of my job easier. But it has also increased the space in our relationships to the point where we don't talk, we Slack.
Maybe the first step is simply to recognize that the more we surround ourselves with smart technology, the more dependent we become. Digital conversations are very different than real-world conversations. When smart technology helps remove barriers to communication, that's a good thing. But when we substitute technology for relationships and real conversations, it has real-world consequences.
Technology has certainly changed the way we work, but I think we should pay attention to how it is changing us because I'm not sure it's actually making us more productive.