February 14th, 2012
Are you a technology vegetarian or a digital carnivore?
In order to find out, I decided to keep track of my digital diet for a week. Compared to estimates by Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet, who suggests that we spend upward of 11 hours each day in consumption of technology (tweets, texts, emails, you name it) I would have to say that my intake wasn’t too caloric. However, I did notice some offenders, such as regular checks of my phone, which could be curbed to good effect.
Besides exposing a manual ‘tic’, the diet diary also illuminated a more fundamental concept behind my technology use and, I would assume, others people’s uses, too. Much like food consumption, digital consumption fills a need for us and while some may call it information, communication, or boredom-busting, much of it can be boiled down to the concept of presence.
A study at the University of Maryland recently asked participants to abstain from any media consumption including social networking, phone use and television for a day (The New York Times is one organization that conducted a similar unplug challenge) and the results were illuminating. Fasting participants reported feelings of isolation, unhappiness and even distress – essentially, they reported the negative impacts of a lack of presence.
What this implies for our technological world is that whether desired or required, much of our work and interaction has migrated onto digital platforms. What it means for us, personally, is that we now have a multitude of platforms for the channeling of our presence and, much like the dizzying array of cornflakes in the isles of our supermarkets, we now have more choices and responsibility to take.
Current cognitive studies suggest that while we are capable of rapidly shifting our attention, we cannot truly multitask. Therefore, our line-up of technology alongside our daily activities can either, potentially make us more agile or, simply distract us (just like my techno-tic) and interfere with our capability of having a sustained presence in any one place at once.
Notably, studies also suggest that people experience difficulty with speaking when their hands are restrained (and gesticulation is limited) and similarly, digital dieters experience a loss of voice (or presence) when their devices are removed. It is interesting to note the degree to which we are connected electronically whereby even a day of rupture can cause personal catastrophe. Perhaps, in thinking about our presence, it might be useful to consider the notion of our own digital diets and how a healthy consumption might be achieved.
Health Tip: If you have concerns about your digital weight, you can measure yourself here.