Is It Time For a Digital Detox?

March 30, 2016

Contributor: Susan Moore

Digital disorder is on the rise and will lead to an increase in anti-social activities, reduced workplace productivity and family dysfunction.

There’s no doubt that the benefits of the digital world are immense, from economic development through digital business to new channels of communication that enable growth, financial transactions that are faster and less expensive, ubiquitous availability of information and improved access to diagnostics and healthcare.

We live in a connected world, and the reality is that we are "always on”, constantly switching from personal to professional domains, using digital gadgets to interact with friends and family, and to transact and conduct business.

“ Business leaders need to take preventative action to minimize the impact on employee health.”

In a Maverick* report, DD Mishra, research director at Gartner, writes that the proliferation of digital technology and smart machines in our daily personal and professional lives also has a significant negative impact, as it disrupts human processes.

“We are seeing a sharp rise in digital disorder as individuals become increasingly obsessed with the virtual world, most often experienced through the Internet, social media, e-commerce, smartphones and other digital technology,” said Mr. Mishra.

Widespread impact on the rise

Victims of this disorder may display abnormal psychological and behavioral symptoms that severely impact their daily lives, such as obsessive compulsive behavior, dysfunctional social relationships, anxiety, anger, frustration, insomnia, depression and social isolation. These symptoms can lead to more serious issues when they drive behavioral changes.

“This is not a new phenomenon, with Internet addiction disorder identified in 1995,” said Mr. Mishra. “What is new is the widespread impact of digital disorder as more and more people have access to the devices and software that connect them to the virtual world. When these changes lead to anti-social activities, there will also be social issues.”


Broad reaching collaboration is needed

The scale of the incidence of digital disorder suggests that negative effects at the individual level could easily translate to negative sociopolitical effects.

Mr. Mishra says governments, corporations, educational institutions, research organizations, lawmakers and civil society will have to work together to provide rehabilitation for people afflicted with digital disorder.

“ The tourism industry could provide digital detox packages to rehabilitate sufferers of digital disorder.”

“The medical profession should acknowledge digital disorder as a legitimate mental disorder and develop real-world medical solutions. Healthcare organizations should establish pilot programs to assess the effectiveness of dedicated treatment centers,” said Mr. Mishra.

“The tourism industry could provide digital detox packages to rehabilitate those suffering from digital disorder,” Mr. Mishra said. “Governments should work together to pass and amend laws to consider the digital world on a par with the physical world.”

Addressing digital disorder in the workplace

In the workplace, digital disorder can reduce productivity and affect interpersonal relationships; however, corporate acknowledgment of this issue is just beginning. HR leaders need to collaborate with business leaders to implement policy changes and take preventative action to minimize the impact on employee health.

There are a number of ways to do this, such as encouraging face-to-face communication; driving engagement and collaboration through face-to-face meetings, role-playing sessions and fun activities to deal with the side effects of digital-only communication patterns. Companies can offer digital detox packages as a type of remuneration to motivate employees and help them overcome the side effects of constant digital interaction.

While we will continue to benefit from digital technology, we should also address the side effects to ensure that our digital journey is smoother.  

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