Has technology improved your life?

A new study this month found that over half (52 percent) of Millennials think technology has improved their relationships. And, 91 percent say they have a healthy relationship with tech. Interestingly enough, the same study found that most Boomers (57 percent) say tech has "ruined" relationships. The study by Qualtrics and Accel sheds new light on how tech plays a role in the daily lives of those 18 to 32 as opposed to older generations.

A surprising stat from last year found that Millennials check their phone 150 times per day. What are they really trying to find out? What's the motivation? We've known since at least 2012 that those text messages, social media posts, and emails all contribute to the release of dopamine in the human brain. (It's the same neurotransmitter that rewards you for accomplishing a goal.)

Scientists have wondered whether this is a terrible trend. Entire books have explained how an obsessive compulsion to read text messages and check your Twitter status have created zombies who can't really participate in discussions and can't look you in the eye for more than a second. Most of us have experienced that problem.

The truth is a little more complicated, however.

What the Qualtric and Accel survey reveals is that tech has, at least in the minds of Millennials, fostered better relationships both in daily life and at work. Seventy-three percent of Millennials say tech has given them a better work-life balance, contributing to a better understanding on projects, for example, or building better friendships outside of work. In the same test group, which included about 8,000 respondents globally, only 47 percent of older generations said tech has given them a better work-life balance and improved relationships.

I've seen how this plays out firsthand many times. Working with Millennials is an interesting experience these days because they do not communicate as often by making phone calls or meeting in person. Yet, they communicate more often. You know what they're thinking and feeling, even if you're reading it on a screen.

Tech has removed a barrier in relationships, lessened the delays in communication, and created a new forum for resolving conflict. We say Millennials do not have a "filter" but that has become a benefit in communication in many cases where they share true thoughts over text and on social media. It's not necessarily that Millennials are checked out or disinterested; in fact, they may be more clued in and more aware than previous generations.

Of course, there's a downside.

Dopamine can create a false sense of accomplishment. The Qualtrics study found that when Millennials are awake, they rarely go more than five hours without checking their phone, which is a sign of addictive behavior. Seventy-nine percent keep a phone nearby when they sleep, and half check their phone in the middle of the night. Scientists know what's happening--it's a sense of euphoria you feel when someone comments on your Instagram photo, but that's not quite the same thing as landing a new job or getting a raise.

There are warning signs when it comes to tech addiction, and it is a real problem. Yet, you could also say there is a shift in communication and it's creating better relationships that involve more communication and fewer barriers. I can text someone in seconds, but it takes five minutes or more to make a phone call. As long as we understand the negatives (a false reward, not to mention a bright light shining up at your face all evening that turns you into an insomniac), it's possible that we're underestimating the benefits in this new form of communication. Tech does have benefits, as the study confirms.

For most of us outside of this age group, there are a few implications. One is that we'll need to invest ourselves in how we develop relationships with Millennials. It means more Slack, fewer meetings. It means we might get a text in the wee hours of the night. It's a shift in how business communication has always worked, and the great irony here is that the Millennials are way ahead of us. They are seeing the benefits. Most of us are only seeing the downside--the inability to pay attention during a meeting.

What's your view? Are the warning signs about addiction more serious than anyone realizes? Is the dopamine hit really a false reward? Or is this all leading to a better workplace where communication is better...and digitized?

Share your thoughts by email or on my Twitter feed.

Published on: Apr 17, 2017