Americans Losing Faith In Technology, But Can't Break The Addiction
Americans have a very conflicted relationship with technology. According to a new Harris Interactive poll, 71% of Americans believe that technology has improved their overall quality of life, with 65% believing that technology helps them be more creative. That's good, right?
Well, it would be, except these numbers are down from last year. In fact, by every measure Harris Interactive polled, satisfaction with technology is fading.
Losing Our (Technology) Religion
Harris Interactive first launched this survey in June 2012, tracking Americans' love affair with tech. It was a buoyant time for technology, with 78% declaring that technology improved their overall quality of life. When pushed, a majority declared tech improved their social lives and many felt it also improved work and home.
In just one year, that 78% has dropped to 71%. While still a majority, it suggests a negative trend, particularly when more people also describe technology as "too distracting" (from 65% in 2012 to 69% in 2013), fewer suggest technology "enhances their social lives" (from 56% to 52%) and fewer still cite technology as an "escape from their busy lives" (from 53% to 47%).
In 2013, satisfaction with technology's impact on specific aspects of daily life has also fallen across the board:
Work productivity (down from 42% in 2012 to 34% in 2013)
Work life (from 41% to 34%)
Safety and security (from 42% to 36%)—In fact, those citing technology having a negative impact on safety and security rose from 15% (2012) to 20% (2013) over the past year
Productivity at home (from 39% to 34%)
Relationships with my family (from 43% to 39%)
And lest we think this is a generational rift, with the oldies crabbing about those pesky kids and their newfangled gadgetry, Harris Interactive's poll shows younger respondents both more likely to own gadgets and more likely to be dissatisfied with tech.
And yet completely incapable of divorcing themselves from it.
You'll Have To Pry My Cell Phone From My Cold, Dead Hands
Actually, this inability to give up on technology that isn't making us happy crosses generational divides. According to the survey, which asked how long Americans could go without a range of technologies, respondents they could endure a week or less without the following technologies:
Internet access (68%; 28% couldn't give it up at all)
Computer/laptop (64%; 24% not at all)
Television (57%; 23% not at all) (Of course, if they have Internet, they might also have Hulu, Netflix, etc.)
Mobile phone (56%; 26% not at all)
Anyone who has tried to live without email will understand this contradiction. We recognize that we're becoming slaves to our inboxes, yet we can't break away. We begin to measure our importance by the size of our inbox and our productivity by the amount of time it takes to pretend to whittle it down. The very thing that feeds our egos also dismantles our happiness.
And yet we can't stop.
Is Technology Making Us Stupid?
Nick Carr once asked if Google were making us stupid by reprogramming our brains for short-form reading and expectations of instant gratification. His article generated a lot of commentary, but no conclusive answers.
In similar manner, Harris Interactive's survey raises questions as to our conflicted relationship with technology. But it's likely that our discontent with technology will continue, even as our unwillingness to part with it grows stronger. It's codependence between person and machine.
It's not going to get better anytime soon.