I ended my last blog article with a joke that illustrated the challenges of texting to maintain clear communications. It was from an article by Diana Windingland, author of Small Talk, Big Results. Windingland expressed a concern for teens and young adults who may be losing the ability to make conversation because young adults are the most frequent texters. She quotes Pew Research that indicates that they would rather text than talk.
I am more concerned with digital technology, including the amount of time spent on social media, the Internet, computer games, texting, and the screen time involved.
Is it increasing our impatience with verbal conversation, and reducing our attention span, and making us more vulnerable to distractions?
I wrote an eBook back in 2013 that quoted studies and expert opinions that indicated excessive use of digital technology, including the Internet, could cause ADHD-like symptoms in adults, not just children. It met with some criticism in the ensuing years with claims that research cited was outdated, no longer valid.
I am the first to admit that ADHD-like symptoms does not necessarily mean the person has ADHD, but it certainly can result in ADHD – like behavior. For example, in a 2023 mental health report, pediatric behavioral health specialist Michael Manos, PhD, explains that “Frequent use of technology affects how we behave and relate to one another.”
The above report quotes a 2018 study that looked at 2,587 high school students who had been diagnosed with ADHD, and discovered that “those who reported using digital media many times a day were more likely than their peers to show these symptoms: inattention, such as difficulty organizing and completing tasks, and hyperactivity and impulsivity, such as having trouble sitting still.” Sounds like ADHD-like symptoms to me. As for adults, Dr. Manos has noticed that every time your computer chimes, your phone beeps, or you get an e-mail, text, or notification, your first inclination is to respond.”
A 2022 article written by Janie McQueen and medically reviewed by Dan Brennan, also quoted a large study of five-year olds that found that the children who had gazed at screens the longest had a 7.7 times greater chance of meeting criteria for an ADHD diagnosis.
None of this proves that technology can cause ADHD in either children or adults. And my biggest mistake in my book, Time Management in an ADHD World, was not to make this clear. But as the title indicates, my purpose was to show adults how to manage time in a world where many of us in business exhibit ADHD-like symptoms to varying degrees. We are having more difficulty concentrating, are more easily distracted, and so on. As I had mentioned in the book, and touched on in a previous blog article, technology is good, but you can have too much of a good thing.
Research published in the February 2008 Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, showed that daily social contacts may boost brain power and cognitive abilities. In a University of Michigan study of 3500 people, it was revealed that more time spent chatting with friends was associated with higher scores on memory tests. Interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than watching a computer monitor or TV set. Technology, on the other hand, encourages multitasking, which in turn leads to stress, anxiety, and inefficiency.
Technology writer Danny O’Brien interviewed top achievers and found one thing in common that may account for their increased productivity. They all used some sort of low-tech tool, such as a written “To Do” list or a plain paper pad. In the future, I believe there will be less talk of merging man and machines and more talk of merging high tech with high touch. It pays to limit the use of technology to those activities that require it to increase productivity in your business and personal life. But not to consume all of your discretionary time.
A UCLA study found that people who adopted a healthy lifestyle instead of constantly manipulating their smartphones, within a matter of weeks showed improvement in memory scores and reasoning. We must be careful that technology doesn’t become all-consuming and addictive.
Leaders of the future will be those who can master some of the more useful technology that becomes available while maintaining their interpersonal skills. Not only will they be able to work efficiently, but they’ll also be able to relate to other people, negotiate, gain consensus, close deals, network effectively and motivate and inspire others. Learning and practicing soft skills will be the new wave of the future.
That’s my opinion, anyway.