This is a question which first occurred to me when I changed jobs 18 or so months ago...
For a number of years I'd been in a position where my job required me to have a Blackberry and it was only when I handed it back, that I realised how dependent or even possibly addicted I'd become to this particular piece of technology.
After my first week at work without a Blackberry I'd noticeably started to struggle organising my working day. I no longer had something that beeped or vibrated reminding me of an upcoming meeting, to deal with a task or to let me know when an email had arrived. It was even worse when I was away from my desk and was without email, this genuinely worried me as I no longer felt in control of my projects. As the second week progressed the lack of a Blackberry and its associated purpose really got to me, so much so I'd started printing out my calendar for the day and keeping a copy in my pocket so that I didn't forget to attend to anything. This was OK until my calendar started to change with such frequency, that it felt as though I'd become responsible for the mass destruction of a rain forest!
It was at this point that I told myself to get a grip. I come from a time where the introduction of the fax machine was considered wizardry, and before the invention of the Filofax let alone Outlook Calendar, yet I'd somehow previously managed my time quite adequately, so this really was something that should have been second nature to me. Over the next few weeks I eventually got back to my old routines and started using my own memory rather than that of my phone to remind me when I had to do something and, believe it or not, it worked!
Having got used to the fact that I no longer had a Blackberry to organise my life, I reflected on how I used to work and came to the conclusion that I had actually become dependent upon, if not addicted to that one particular piece of technology. First thing in a morning, long before the coffee machine had warmed up and served me my first coffee of the day, I'd not only checked my calendar for the day, but read and answered any emails that had come in overnight. Then, throughout the day the slightest vibration resulted in me checking the phone to attend to the incoming email, or to see what appointment was either upcoming or I was already late for. During the evening I would continue this routine and finally before I called it a day, there would be one last glance and more often than not a delay in going to bed whilst I responded to an email.
Unfortunately, this activity wasn't confined to the working week. Oh no, the same would happen during the weekend, and, as my family will testify on numerous occasions and even whilst sat on a foreign beach, I not only took calls and answered emails but also investigated equipment problems via my phone.
Not surprisingly these days my attitude is akin to that of an ex-smoker. In so much that "having kicked the habit," I now observe the actions of others and wonder if we haven't all to a lesser or greater degree become addicted to our smart phones, phablets, tablets and other devices?
I used to enjoy going to the cinema and concerts, but go less frequently these days purely and simply because I find that my enjoyment is spoilt by the incessant glow of mobile phones, people sending and receiving texts, updating Facebook, twitter and other social media sites or watching the entire concert through the screen of their device as they film it. I hadn't realised how much this affected my enjoyment until my wife and I went to a Show bar where all forms of photographic devices including mobile phones had to be left at the cloakroom, in a secure area. After the show, we remarked on how much quieter it had been and how few distractions there were, and we put this difference down to the absence of mobile technology. It would be an interesting comparison to be able to see the same show, but with the presence of photographic and mobile devices, to see if my assumption was correct.
On a recent holiday, we had the pleasure of staying in an area where the mobile phone signal wasn't great or consistent, effectively leaving us without 'technology' for a whole two weeks. The hotel only had Wi-Fi access in the hotel lobby and due to the poor local connectivity there was limited availability. One of the guests suggested that it would be quicker if you sent a messenger to pick up and hand deliver the web page, so slow was the service. Despite this, it was amazing to see that each day a large number of people huddled in the reception area to log on to various social media sites and to check their emails.
In the local cafes and bars, holiday makers were lugging around 17" laptops as well as smart phones, phablets and tablets, so that they could access the free Wi-Fi offered by the bars in order to use social media sites or to Skype their friends. Why is it when people are on phones or Skype in public areas they think that no one else can over hear them or see what they or their friends are doing?
Don't get me wrong, I'm no Luddite and I think that technology not only has its place in modern life but in certain instances provides important humanitarian benefits. But I do have to ask, have we now come to depend on mobile technology in a way that is addictive? Perhaps we should have a "No Portable Technology day" like we do No Smoking days, to test if this is the case or not. Could you manage a whole day without your phone?
On a final note, a friend of mine once said "there is use of technology and there's an appropriate use of technology." It took me a while to understand what he meant, but now I do, it is a mantra I often use, if only to remind myself of my past dependency!