Shawn Parr: Are Our Phones Giving Us A.D.D.?

Shawn Parr: Are Our Phones Giving Us A.D.D.?
Design & Architecture

Our collective behavior when it comes to our devices is getting worse and worse, so how do we change it?

Shawn Parr, Bulldog Drummond
  • 30 june 2013


We live in a world where titles and labels play a major role in helping us to identify who we’re interacting with and to understand where we sit in relation to others. When my son was diagnosed with ADD, I realized I had a good dose of it too. I dislike the label ADD with a passion as it contains two negatives indicating we have a deficit and a disorder. It assumes that we choose to be disorderly because of this deficit, which can be pretty depressing if you’re sensitive to labels. But, as I researched the condition I realized that some of the most creative and constructive people through history have had ADD or ADHD (that term has hyper thrown in for good measure), like Einstein, Picasso, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Michael Jordan and Spielberg just to name a few. We are in good company.

Years back when we were deciding how we’d build our brand, business titles were an important indicator of our role in the company. I wanted my team’s to reflect function and a sense of British humor, so my professional title became the Guvner, as opposed to CEO. It’s supposed to indicate authority with a healthy dose of playfulness. Whomever I meet almost always calls me the Guvner, and often times it’s with a smile. It’s memorable and cuts through the formalities.

Professionally, I like to think I’m part cultural voyeur mixed with a splash of aspiring behavioral scientist, business therapist, executive coach, innovative design thinker and wannabe motivational speaker. But, when reality kicks in I realize I have a massively inflated, completely misinformed view of my professional position in life. However, I am skilled at framing the challenge, spotting the opportunity and saying what everyone else is thinking (and afraid to say) to solve big problems using a healthy dose of collaborative common sense. While I know I’m late to the game commenting on this one, it’s a subject we’re going to be hearing even more about and deserves a new, memorable label.

With the excessive amount of traveling I do over the course of the year I spend a majority of my time in airports, on planes and in public meeting spaces where I often find myself observing people and their behaviors. As I go about my business, I’m both intrigued and disturbed by people’s (and my own) dependence on digital devices.

Do you have Impulsive Digital Isolationist Obsessive Tendencies?

It seems wherever you go, people are consumed with their smart phone and all it has to offer including texting, talking, gaming, Instagraming, Tweeting, Facebooking and more. Generally, there is a look of urgency, importance and disconnection from the immediate world around the user. People talk into their phones or into the air with little regard for others around the user. Next time you’re in a restaurant, look at how many couples and families spend more time looking at their phones than each other. Next time you’re in a meeting count how many times people check, text, or type on their phones rather than pay attention. When you are stopped at a light look over to the other lane and you’ll likely see people texting or talking on their phones. The term for the fear of, and obsession with, losing and/or being without a smartphone is Nomophobia (No-mobile-phobia) which was coined by UK researchers in 2008. This growing dependency and addiction to smart phones is very similar to substance addiction or other compulsive behaviors; and according to a Baylor University study in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, it revealed that impulsivity and materialism are key drivers of mobile phone and instant messaging usage.

We are becoming a society of IDIOTs

Couples would rather text each other than talk to each other, people avoid eye-to-eye contact, and much of the younger generation can’t hold a conversation longer than a few minutes without reaching for their phones.

It’s clear from all of this that we’re becoming a society of IDIOTs (Impulsive Digital Isolationist Obsessive Tendencies) distracted by technology and disconnected from our human relationships. We are fooling ourselves that impulsive and superficial digital connections are better than in person conversations and connections.

What the internet is doing to our brains and our behavior

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain, by Nicholas Carr describes the same phenomenon. According to Carr, the internet is a system that might as well have been designed to foster distractedness. When you read a book there’s nothing there but the physical pages to dive into without distractions. Reading on the internet is a different matter. He describes how the brain is constantly switching tasks with all the distractions being so prevalent. My newfound storytelling heroes at Epipheo put this superb video together to make the same point.

Warning Signs that you are becoming an IDIOT?

As you go about your day, take note of your behaviors, dependency and compulsive usage of your smartphone. If you’ve developed more than one of the following behaviors, there’s a good chance you are, or you’re becoming an IDIOT.

Do you look at your emails from your phone in bed?

Do you take your phone to the bathroom?

Do you DWT (Drive While Texting)?

Do you jump between email, the news, project documents, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter?

Do you eat dinner with your family with your phone in your hand?

Do you compulsively check to see if you have new messages and LIKES on your latest post?

Do you post everything you do, every moment of the day?

Do you go out for dinner and midway through take photos of what you’re eating and post them immediately?

Do you go out for dinner and spend more time looking at your phone than your date?

Do you sit in a meeting and check your phone every few minutes?

Here are 5 simple tips to avoid being an IDIOT some of the time:

  1. Find at least an hour in the day and turn off your phone
  2. Unplug for at least one day on the weekend
  3. If you’re in a meeting turn your phone off
  4. If you’re at dinner with others, turn your phone off
  5. Do not text while you’re driving

Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego. Clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.

[Image: Flickr user Scallop Holden]

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