in Long Reads, Ramblings

Technology is not the demon, it is our social psychology

Ofcom released its Communications Market Report 2016 last week. According to the report, UK digital consumption patterns have reached an all-time high, and trends for more universal access are bullish. Yet rather than celebrating the web for bringing the world’s information to our fingertips, coverage of the report focused on what it called “connectivity creep”: attachment to our devices is getting in the way of face-to -face communications; we prefer to chat with people in the same room via instant message than do laundry; we would rather go online than sleep. The findings implied that we have become slaves to the digital, and that it is affecting our social involvement and psychological wellbeing.

Two decades after the paper that kick-started the kickback, we know we cannot opt out. The web has an established and important presence in our work and leisure, and three out of four internet users admit that the web plays an important role in their daily lives. Rather, we have developed a hack that lets us think we are reasserting control in this codependent relationship: taking a digital detox.

A break from any everyday thing will undoubtedly bring a fresh perspective and a rejuvenation of spirit, but it will not solve an urge to find out the latest headline or status update. It will not stop the fire hose of emails entering the inbox. Nor will disconnecting give us the willpower to write an opus, become the world’s expert in watchmaking or create quality family time. After a few delicious weeks ignoring email, those philosophy books are gathering dust on the bedside table and the new trumpet is still sitting in its case. Technology is not the demon; our social psychology is.

The reason we need a break is because we have not developed a healthy way to deal with devices. There is a social expectation that we will answer every email, that we must constantly create, that we must have a handle on what is going on at all times. The technology is only facilitating the flow.

Aleks Krotoski for the FT