At least three articles showed up in my Facebook feed yesterday about how to eliminate distractions from technology for greater productivity. One implied that technology is making us dumber and those easily distracted by email, Twitter and Facebook (guilty!) are in need of an intervention. I get more defensive every time I hear that our cell phones are ruining our lives. I see only the upside.
In 3 Ways to Shake Your Cell Phone Addiction, author Brigitt Hauck calls the constant use of our cell phones ‘alarming’.
I get it. I am a Mom and have certainly caught myself looking at my Facebook feed rather than ensuring my kids aren’t breaking their arms on the monkey bars while playing on the playground. But then again, what’s so wrong with letting the kids just play without my eyes on them every single second?
Regarding work productivity, Hauck cites Florida State University research which claims mobile notifications are "damaging to our task performance." Isn't there something to be said about staying on top of breaking developments, understanding the dynamic way in which the world works and how people interact with the ever-changing environment in which we live?
In every way, shape and form I am a victim of technology’s Pavlov’s dog. I salivate all over Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and am religious about keeping my inbox empty. While I agree that my focus lacks a sharpness that may be different from generations before me, my ability to follow multiple issues and track several clients’ activity at once has helped my business. I want to stop reading about how technology is making us zombies. I want to focus, instead, on how technology is making us smarter, better and more productive.
In 2003 I wrote my Masters’ thesis on the correlation between access to technology and GDP. Initially it seemed like a straightforward conclusion that a stronger technology infrastructure leads to a higher GDP. The result was more nuanced. A country that leapfrogged the latest technology and made use of cellular accessibility for other services (like mPesa for banking) had a higher GDP per capital than a country that simply had access to the latest and basic technology services. The way the technology was used proved to be more impactful than simply having it in the first place. Similar findings have been shared by development practitioners for years, and a growing movement to utilize mobile technology to address poverty, and issues like access to clean water, education and health services is taking greater shape. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other technology platforms are responsible for creating social movements, bettering the world in which we live and drawing attention to the needs of those without a voice. Our news is increasingly coming straight from our cellphones via Twitter, Facebook, etc. Focusing attention on technology keeps us engaged, aware and socially active.
Recently I learned about ASILI, a collaborative ‘disruptive startup’ led by the American Refugee Committee, together with IDEO and USAID. ASILI aims to provide social services like health, water and education relying upon the use of mobile technology designed by the community accessing the services. ASILI's model has been tested in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the results are clear that allowing the local community to design their own mobile-based program and incentivizing the right type of pay-for-service model leads to results. Having access to mobile technology and essentially 'living' via their phones is pivotal in this case.
For the development community, the rapid pace of technology expansion is a good thing. Remaining disruptive, unsettled, maybe unfocused and impatient is needed to wipe out old models and try new approaches in places where leapfrogging is possible. Let's stop fighting the use of our technology. Let's grow from it, solve problems from it and rebel against the status quo. Otherwise we run the risk of losing opportunities for innovation and development. From my side I pledge to keep an eye on my kids at the playground but I will not give up my addiction. There is too much work to be done.