Going On A Digital Diet


by Samuel Greengard

A recent survey conducted by mobile telecom giant Ericsson found that 35 percent of iPhone and Android users check their e-mail or Facebook account before getting out of bed in the morning. In addition, 40 percent use their phones in bed before they go to sleep at night.

Let's face it, we're all thoroughly addicted to our digital toys. I include myself in this category. You can hardly go anywhere without seeing a marching zombie army--eyes peering down at a screen while shuffling forward, thumb or forefinger flicking and scrolling. There's even an app to keep you from crashing into things while walking and texting.

You'd think by the way people check their messages and text each other they were president of the United States or a heart transplant specialist on call. You can't tell me we're all getting that many critical messages, particularly on Saturday afternoon.

The average American spends upwards of three hours a day using digital tools. Nielsen found that the average 13-to-17 year old in the U.S. exchanges 3,339 text message per month.

We're already in the yellow zone and headed for the red zone.

Sherry Turkle, a professor of social studies of science and technology at MIT and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, believes that the overuse of digital tools creates serious consequences. "People complain that they are too busy communicating to think, too busy communicating to create, and in a final paradox, too busy communicating to fully connect with the people who matter."

Worse, we're risking a serious breakdown of critical thinking skills. There's a growing belief that if you can't say it in 140 characters or less it's not worth saying. The problem is that great ideas and creative solutions don't always come neatly packaged in 140 characters or less. They're messy, time consuming and they sometimes carry us into uncharted territory.

A few companies, like Google and 3M, understand that people need time and space to think, conjure and dream. Innovative ideas usually result when people step off the technology treadmill. In addition, some groups such as Sabbath Manifesto are promoting the idea of unplugging for periods of time and, as Turkle puts it, going on a "digital diet."

Sometimes the slower you go the faster you actually arrive at your destination.