MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Are you due for a digital detox?

The first mobile phone call was made on April 3, 1973. According to the latest annual Mobility Report from Ericsson, 64% of American adults now own a smartphone, and there will be 6.1 billion smartphone users globally by 2020. Another new technology report reveals that the average American checks his or her social media accounts 17 times a day; smartphone users in other parts of the world check their social media accounts up to 40 times a day.

smartphone addiction

Advantages of smartphones include the ability to check email and respond to work issues wherever we are. But while this enables many workers to be productive outside of the office, there appears to be a physical price we are paying for having nearly everything at our fingertips.

Research shows that so much as looking at the blue screen of a device within an hour of going to bed will disrupt our sleep--and even sleeping near our phones may cause harm. Neuroscientist and MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Tara Swart* told Quartz, a digital news outlet, "Sleeping next to your smartphone--the one that emits 3G and 4G signals all night--affects your brain patterns, restructuring your brain cells and likely preventing your brain from cleaning out waste material properly." Studies have proven that an individual's IQ drops by 5-8 points as a result of any sleep disturbance.

Overuse of our smartphones may also have a negative impact on our relationships. Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, recently told the NPR radio show, Here & Now, "When we put a phone on a table, the conversation moves to more trivial matters and we feel less empathy." Turkle, the author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, says that having our devices around too much--particularly at the dinner table--is causing intergenerational conversations to go away. Having a device out during dinner signals to others that our minds are elsewhere. The issue has become so pervasive that there are now retreats, resorts, and vacations offering "digital detox," which prohibit using smartphones, computers, tablets, or even watches. 

Think about your last vacation or holiday--were you tethered to your device? Or were you surprisingly happy that you were unreachable? In an ideal world, technology improves our lives, and mobile phones have certainly done that. But maybe it's time to think about their negative impact on our day-to-day lives. 

* Tara Swart teaches in Neuroscience for Leadership at MIT Sloan Executive Education and is the CEO of The Unlimited Mind.

This entry was posted in Work-life balance on Sun Jan 10, 2016 by MIT Sloan Executive Education