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Do you feel like your day hasn’t started until you turn on the TV or check your email? Is it tough for you to turn off your phone before going to bed? A growing group of experts says that “tech addiction” is real. Daniel Sieberg, a science and technology reporter and a recovering digital addict, proposes a ‘digital diet’ that aims to make technology work for you, rather than the other way around.
- Daniel Sieberg Science and technology writer; and author of "The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in your Life" (Three Rivers Press)
Daniel Sieberg on “The Digital Diet:”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Your online social life may be robust, but what about your real social life? Oops, hold that thought. I've got to take this call. And while I do, I'm going to check my email, upload some photos onto Facebook, check out the latest YouTube sensation. What was it you wanted again?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOh, right. You were here for Tech Tuesday. Because of the technology we have at our disposal, a growing number of people are never disconnected and constantly distracted. Daniel Sieberg, a self-avowed geek and reporter who has covered all things digital, thinks that, as a society, we're increasingly overwhelmed by the technology in our lives. And what do we do when we're getting too much of something we need? Go on a diet, of course.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd the good news about this one is that you can still have as many carbs as you want. Daniel Sieberg joins us in studio. He is the author of "The Digital Diet" and a science and technology contributor for several news networks and Details magazine. Daniel Sieberg, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DANIEL SIEBERGIt's my pleasure, Kojo. You just described basically every day in my life, leading up to about 2009.
SIEBERGTotally scattered. We two connect.
NNAMDIWhich is how "The Digital Diet" came about.
NNAMDIIt's a four-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life. Like food, there's still some debate over whether it's possible to be addicted to technology, but the idea seems to be gaining traction in the medical field. How do you define it? What's your take on tech addiction?
SIEBERGYou know, so the word addiction, I think, gets tossed around a lot, too much sometimes. We say we're addicted to coffee. We're addicted to Scrabble. Of course, there are hardcore addictions when we talk about drugs and that kind of thing. But there is this legitimate debate going on in the medical and psychological community about whether technology addiction should be a separate diagnosis.
SIEBERGSo, you know, what does that mean exactly? It's different for different people. I think there's a broad spectrum. I think on the one end are the people who don't care about technology. They don't get the latest smartphone. They're not interested in all this stuff. On the other end are people who are debilitated by technology. They lose their lives in, let's say, an online role-playing game.
SIEBERGAnd they just can't find any sort of normalcy in their life. And the rest of us are somewhere in the middle. We're trying to juggle all these devices. We get this sort of almost a dopamine hit that brings us back to these things. You know, we think about a Facebook wall post. We wonder if we've got that email. We see a flashing light, and our eyes light up. You know, we're struggling with all this stuff, and it's all kind of come at us so quickly.
NNAMDIIf you have self-diagnosed for a tech addiction, or have you diagnosed a loved one as having a tech addiction, you can tell us about it and how you've handled it by calling us at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're not trying to be an enabler, but if you're on Twitter, join the conversation by using the Tech Tuesday hashtag.
NNAMDIAgain, our guest is Daniel Sieberg. He is the author of "The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in your Life." How did a tiger shark help you realize that you were too dependent on technology?
SIEBERGWell, you know -- and I know it seems like a far-off way to think about being too immersed in the tech world, but I was asked to go swim with sharks off the Bahamas, tiger sharks and lemon sharks. And it was a trip that took me away from all of my devices, and I was actually learning how to do an open-water scuba dive...
NNAMDIBack up for a second...
NNAMDI...because I am significantly older than you are, and no one...
SIEBERGI don't know about that.
NNAMDINo one in my experience has ever asked me or any of my friends to go swim with some tiger sharks.
SIEBERGRight. So I should explain that. I cover science and technology...
SIEBERG...and environment, so this was about shark conservation.
SIEBERGAnd it was a story for the CBS "Early Show."
SIEBERGWe had -- it wasn't recreational, necessarily, but...
NNAMDIOh, Danny, we just like you to go swim with some sharks.
SIEBERGYeah, just some sharks. No cage, by the way. So this was a little harrowing...
SIEBERG...and this is my -- this was my first open-water dive. So I've done all the pool work. But this was the first time I was actually going to go in the water, and it was with a tiger shark. So it was also the first time I realized that I was totally, completely 100 percent cut off from the Internet, from all of my devices. You know, we've taken a boat well offshore.
SIEBERGI watched the bars of my phone drop down from two to one to no service and got a very anxious sort of feeling. And once I was in the water -- and anybody who scuba dives knows what this feeling is like -- it's just that breathing sensation. And it's so quiet and so serene and so peaceful, and it's a rare opportunity to be totally within yourself.
SIEBERGAnd I can't -- I remember coming face-to-face with -- well, face-to-snout with this tiger shark and thinking, you know, I wonder if I could Google what to do if this tiger shark comes at me. And it was the stupidest thought that went through my head. But it made me think this is such an unusual opportunity for me to be away from all that technology and focus, you know, really focus on this amazing creature in front of me.
SIEBERGAnd that got me thinking about, you know, how to apply that in other parts of my life.
NNAMDIWhat did you actually do when you came face-to-snout with the tiger shark?
SIEBERGFortunately, in my case, it veered away, and the scuba buddy that I had with me clung to my arm with a death grip and made sure I didn't go anywhere. But it was an experience like no other, and it got me thinking about this. Unfortunately, that experience didn't stick. It didn't force me to really re-think my tech dependency because my relationships at the time were really suffering, with my wife and my family and my friends.
NNAMDIIt caused me to think about something else entirely, your wife...
NNAMDI...as a matter of fact, who I think was on that trip with you when you accepted the job to go swimming with the sharks. How did that help your relationship?
SIEBERGExactly. Well, we had been in France, actually, at the time that we were trying to have this little getaway, kind of an oasis away from technology. You know, my wife knows that I cover technology for a living. So we've hoped to go to this small town in Provence, put away all the gadgets and have a little intimate time. I was actually sneaking out of our little place that we were staying to go get Wi-Fi access from a neighboring campground.
SIEBERGLet's just say it didn't work out the way it was planned. And so during that trip is when I found out I was going to go on this trip with the sharks. And my wife just rolled her eyes and thought, oh, great. Here goes Daniel again.
NNAMDII am married to an insane person. As a science and technology reporter, your job is to stay on top of the latest and the greatest in gadgets and websites. Were you at all worried that writing about this subject, technology addiction, would, well, hurt your career?
SIEBERGI was extremely worried about it. I was -- it was -- it almost -- frankly, almost paralyzed me into not writing the book because I was so concerned about what my tech contemporaries would say, what other people would think of me. You know, it's pushing back against the grain a little bit. You know, traditionally, technology reporters embrace the latest stuff. You know, they go out and find the coolest...
NNAMDIIt's your job.
SIEBERGRight. And, you know, it's still part of my job in many ways. You know, I still try to keep up with the latest stuff. But to question our dependency is a little bit like saying the emperor has no clothes. And it was one of those -- it was one -- when I was starting to write the book, I got very worried about what all of the, you know, my colleagues and so on would think of me and get angry and how dare you question all this stuff.
SIEBERGYou know, we love technology, and I said, but I love technology, too. But it's, you know, I can't find the right place for it in my life. And I just felt like I had to get this out there and...
NNAMDIHow did your colleagues respond?
SIEBERGYou know, subsequently, they've actually been fairly -- they've been very embracing, I must say. I mean, a couple of them have come and taken me aside and been very emotional about it. And, you know, they're human beings first. You know, they have families, and they have friends. And they've realized that they have lost them.
NNAMDIAnd some of them have this problem, too.
SIEBERGAbsolutely. And -- but were afraid to admit it, and I think it's one of those things that so many people have that nagging voice and whether it takes an almost intervention, like it did with me. Or it's -- we each know when we've kind of crossed that line, and technology has gotten the best of us.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. Our guest is Daniel Sieberg. His book is called "The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in your Life." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. If you're on Twitter, you can join the conversation by using the Tech Tuesday hashtag. We will start with C.J. in College Park, Md. C.J., you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
C.J.Good afternoon, Kojo. Good afternoon. How are you guys doing?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
SIEBERGGreat. Thank you.
C.J.Good. I have a younger sister who I feel is addicted to the whole texting and Facebook thing. And the one point I want to make is that the more people that -- a lot of people use the technology, Facebook and texting, the more I see that we lose our interpersonal communication skills because we're living behind the digital world. And people don't know -- I feel to be scared of talking to people face-to-face. So how do you guys feel about that?
SIEBERGYou know, I would agree. I mean, I think the book is broken down into these four sections, four parts, and one of them is called reconnect, which is all about regaining those intimate moments with people, those face-to-face conversations, which are so important, not just in familial or friendship relationships or with your spouse, but in the workplace. You know, I used to be the guy who wrote fantastic emails to everybody but was reluctant to go and sit in the boss' office and have a conversation.
SIEBERGBut if you can do that, if you can be that person who facilitates that, I think you're going to get ahead much more in life. And I think that those moments where you sit across from somebody, even like Kojo and I are right now, frankly, I mean, when you have...
SIEBERG...this kind of connection with somebody, it replaces that. You know, the screens can be so sterile, and that's what worries me, that people, you know, distance themselves from their emotions, from connecting with people in a real way. And, you know, obviously, we can't do that all the time.
NNAMDIYeah, but you talk...
NNAMDI...in this book about people who work in the same office, within touching distance practically of one another, who communicate almost exclusively by email. And so when you look -- when you follow the trail of all of those emails, those people would have accomplished a lot more a lot faster, had they just spoken with another.
SIEBERGExactly. I mean, if you were to read out, you know, an email chain, you could probably get all of that out in, you know, a couple of minutes, let's say. But sometimes, email chains can drag on for hours or days. And you feel like it's weighing you down, you know? And so there's actually an efficiency by going analog in some cases. And, you know, I...
C.J.But in my job, there's no office. So I'm constantly on the road, and I feel that I'm emailing my boss and calling him, I think I'm losing, like you said, the intimacy between the worker and the boss. So I guess it is that type in some sort of situation.
SIEBERGAnd, you know, it's about finding the balance because, you know, and I don't mean to put myself out there as perfect. I mean, there are days when I struggle with all of this stuff. But I hope that the book gives people some tools and ways to, you know, think about this stuff differently and apply it in the right setting.
NNAMDIC.J., thank you for your call. Let's move on to Mike in Alexandria, Va., who makes a slightly different point. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEThanks for having me on, Kojo. I would like to say, first of all, a couple of years ago, you did a show where you had a guy on who invited, I guess, all of his Facebook friends and MySpace friends to a party...
MIKE...and only 12 people showed up.
NNAMDICorrect. I remember that.
MIKEOn that particular show, I called in and managed to get a tweet read on the air, which was pretty exciting for me. It was a twofer. And I think that illustrates the point that people of my generation, who are the last generation that will remember life before the Internet, and everybody after us is pretty comfortable with the idea that everybody is always connected and almost expected.
MIKEAnd I don't see it as an addiction the way, I think, that the generation before sees there still is something that even though they all email constantly in Facebook all the time, they're not doing it to the extent and they're not really as comfortable with it. So it seems more foreign, maybe a little bit different to them in a way that -- to people, like me, it just seems utterly common.
NNAMDIWhat can I say, Daniel Sieberg, you're a Neanderthal.
SIEBERGWell, you know, I'm approaching 40 rapidly, and so, you know, I'm a digital immigrant. I came to this at a sort of young age, getting into computers and the Internet and that kind of thing. And I've talked to folks on both sides of the generational gap here, you know, young children. I've talked to adults. And I think that, you know, there's always a tendency for the older generation to wring their hands and look at the younger generation and think, oh, no, what is this doing to young brains?
SIEBERGWhat is this doing to the way we communicate? Is this ruining the world? And I don't -- I certainly don't mean to be this -- to present this dystopian future of how technology is going to be a part of our lives because I don't believe that. I think that there's actually wonderful things to be gained from technology. And it certainly is the new world order in many cases. But what I want is for people to just step back and think about this and not lose our humanity along the way.
SIEBERGJust because it can be easier or we can find a place for it in our lives, it's beneficial, doesn't always mean that it's good. You know, I've talked to -- I talked to one mother, who had -- who has a 5-year-old son, and he was having night terrors one night. And she went in to try to console him and soothe him. He's writhing about in bed, and in his sleep, he says, Mommy, Mommy, put the BlackBerry down. Put the BlackBerry down.
SIEBERGAnd it was just this huge realization for her that there's a learned behavior going on between both generations. I'm sure her son is fascinated by touch screens and loves to play with everything. But at the same time he's feeling neglected by his mother. So, you know, relationships can be harmed in ways we don't even see right away necessarily.
NNAMDII want your full attention, Mom. Thank you very much for your call, Mike. But I'm wondering, Daniel -- I'm sure Mike speaks for the group of people with whom he interacts. But I'm wondering if you also found people who are digital natives, who were also feeling that, yeah, even though I'm a digital native, there are times when I'm feeling stressed by the expectations that I do have to respond to everything within nanoseconds?
SIEBERGAbsolutely. I mean, there are these young folks who feel like there's a pressure. And, in fact, some kids feel bullied. They get bullied by not -- we talk about cyber bullying, when people are, you know, harassed through technology. Well, there are younger people who were harassed because they're not on technology because they feel like it's too much and they don't want it in their lives all the time. And their peers humiliate them because they won't embrace all this stuff.
SIEBERGSo it's a struggle for folks of any age, perhaps for different reasons. And, you know, I hope that, you know, the book illuminates some of those struggles and gives people some tools to work through it.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call at 800-433-8850. If you'd like to join us on Twitter, join the conversation by using the Tech Tuesday hashtag, or send email to email@example.com. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. It's Tech Tuesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a Tech Tuesday conversation about a digital diet, the specific book called "The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in Your Life." We're talking with the author, Daniel Sieberg. He is a science and technology contributor for several news networks and Details magazine. Inviting your call at 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDICutting to the chase, so to speak, Daniel Sieberg, unless you have a really understanding boss, giving up technology completely is probably out of the question. But you point out that a digital diet is neither fasting nor starving. How did you find the right balance? And what do you recommend for others?
SIEBERGExactly. And you can draw the food analogy there, you know? If you were going to go on a diet of any kind, your doctor would never recommend that you stop eating or that you don't eat the right foods. And it's all about using technology at the right times and on, you know, in the right occasions. For me, you know, as a science and technology reporter and working in the news business requires you to be on the go all the time, to be traveling, you know, 24/7 news cycles, it's very difficult to find that balance.
SIEBERGI think that one of the first things that's important to do is to have this kind of discussion within the workplace. And even if it means just having it with your colleagues and venting a little bit, if it, you know, if your -- if you have a decent relationship with your boss, I would hope that you can kind of open this and at least talk about it in a way that's, you know, that's meaningful and say, look, you know, I'm really trying to be efficient to do my job.
SIEBERGI know I -- you know, I work long hours. Sometimes, I work on the weekends. But are there times when you can, you know, we can have an understanding that I'm not necessarily going to be available, that I have a family life, that I've got little things going on. Now, your boss might say on the one hand, oh, sure, that's fine, and then expect you to be connected later, right? There's sort of a wink and a nod thing going on here.
SIEBERGIt's not easy. And I'm not suggesting that it's the kind of thing where a boss is going to say, great, fine, Daniel, Kojo, you know, don't worry about it, you know? This is a difficult conversation for people to have, but I think that there are a lot benefits to be gained. And then when you start to establish those barriers and parameters for yourself, I think you'll be amazed when people start to respect them.
SIEBERGAnd you actually get a -- you find yourself having a stronger position in the workplace because when you put up that out-of-office message and you mean it and you don't actually reply, you'll be amazed some people are envious. They think, wow, okay, he's got other stuff going on. And life still does continue. We've built this kind of pressure. We put this pressure on ourselves to think that we always have to be connected, but it turns out we don't always have to be connected.
NNAMDIWell, quickly, re-thinking one of the four steps, I can understand that. Re-think your relationship to being constant. Rebooting, what do you mean by rebooting?
SIEBERGRebooting is a little bit like a reboot with a computer. There's a brief sort of a detox period in all of this. And I'm really only suggesting maybe a day or two where you just put everything away for a while, maybe even make a list of it, gather all your gadgets together, maybe even put them in a box, just look at them and say, all right, this is what's really eating my time and energy here.
SIEBERGAnd then it's about just getting back into your -- what I call an E day. And I suggest that people get back into it slowly, where you think about, you know, when you get online. You know, when do you first pick up your smartphone? When are you first checking your emails? When you roll out of bed? Is it after you have some coffee? Is it on your way to work? You know, when are you immersing yourself in all of that? And when are you stopping all of that?
SIEBERGAnd, you know, trying to find that right balance, and of course, it's going to be different every day, but becoming more conscious and aware of these things so that they don't eat at you and you feel so frustrated later, you know, having that empowerment and ownership over your technology.
NNAMDISo that when you reconnect, the third stage, you have better understanding of what's priority and what's not so that you know how to reconnect. Then we reconnect. And what is revitalize?
NNAMDIThe fourth step.
SIEBERG...yeah, is all about including certain technologies to help -- so it's technology that will help manage your technology. You know, there are wonderful apps out there that will help manage your time, maybe help you get in shape. You know, one of my favorite buzz phrases these days is outsourcing self-control. So, you know, sometimes, admittedly, you know, we're not perfect with all this stuff. And I certainly don't present myself as that person.
SIEBERGLet's say it's texting and driving. And, you know, the temptation is there, especially, you know, stuck in D.C. traffic. I'm sure we're all, you know, trying to pull out our gadgets and look at devices. Well, you know, there are apps that will prevent you from texting while driving, at least while you're going a certain speed if you're bumper-to-bumper. On the Beltway, it's going to be worth it.
NNAMDISo you're recommending the use of technology to help manage your technology?
SIEBERGExactly. In fact, the Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 ad campaign is a phone to save us from our phones. So you've got one of the largest technology companies in the world acknowledging that this is a big problem for people and presenting their device as something to get in and out of very quickly. So I try to outline a bunch of these in the book. I had no stake in any of these companies, by the way.
SIEBERGI was the human guinea pig for them. They didn't even know they were going to be in the book.
NNAMDIAnd your understanding of the phrase, a phone to save us from our phones, is?
SIEBERGIs that we get sort of too caught up in our devices, that we can't find that sort of compartmentalized place for them. If you've seen the ads, you know, it's people bumping into each other. It's a woman who's in lingerie, and her husband comes in the room in his laptop and doesn't notice. You know, it's all these things that we can all relate to on some level and, I think that, you know, I don't that it has to take over our lives. And that's what I hope. You know...
NNAMDIBy making your life the center of your phone, rather than having the phone be the center of your life.
SIEBERGBe the center of your life. Amen.
NNAMDIOn to to Richard in Greenbelt, Md. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDOh, hello. So I was wondering if there's any data, research data on the correlation between age and hours online -- and that's one part. And I'm also interested in whether or not people are interested in the box as a box, or they're interested in codes.
NNAMDII'm not sure I understand the last part of your question, whether the...
RICHARDOh, okay, the last part of the question is, are people interested in a device as a device -- two parts -- a device as a device? Or would they be interested in programming languages, code?
RICHARDOr is it simple as you can get and reaching out to someone? Do we know any of that?
NNAMDII don't know. Maybe some techies are addicted to code. But I think the average user of these devices is more interested in reaching out to someone or some ones.
SIEBERGOh, and someone reaching out to them.
SIEBERGYou know, it's that experience, that connection and desiring that. And, you know, I talked to lots of neurologists and psychologists and technologists as part of the research in the book. And they're seeing that, you know, we are getting that kind of feedback and wanting that feedback loop increasingly from our technology. He asked about the number of hours that people are spending online.
SIEBERGI mean, I think it's not a surprise to know that the number of hours that we spend online is increasing. I mean, it's just -- by the very fact that we can be online any time we want and it's replacing, easily replacing -- you know, the wireless time is replacing the wire time. We're on our smartphones more than our laptops, more than our desktops. I mean, that's just a natural evolution of where we're going with everything.
SIEBERGAs far as which parts of society are doing that, the over-55 probably is one of the fastest growing segments that's, let's say, using social networks. You know, and we shouldn't be too surprised by that. I mean, the Web has been around in some form for, you know, the better part of 17 or 18 years. And so people are coming into it, you know, and getting a little bit older and getting used to it.
SIEBERGAnd, you know, of course, as the next generation comes up, we wonder if they're ever offline. And so, you know, again, I don't want to make it sound like we all have to go back to 1983, but I think that, you know, there's lot to be gained from questioning some of this stuff and our dependency and finding that right balance.
NNAMDIRichard, thank you for your call. Here is Andrew in Washington, D.C. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWHey, Kojo. How's it going?
ANDREWNow, my question -- actually, my comment, which is a little dated in this conversation as it would've been earlier, would be the -- I always tell people that when Wikipedia goes down or my Internet's out, that my IQ drops by about 50 points. And, I would say one of the, actually, largest advantages -- and this came out -- this has come about, like, multiple times in human society, where we have had tools that have, really, like, 100 percent increased our capacity to do something -- or 200 percent.
ANDREWAnd the Internet and a lot of wired devices, phone apps, anything like that -- really, it just increases the capacity and the potential for humans to do work. The problem is I feel like it's -- being connected and being just wired in has had such a stigma for so long time. And it's not that I'm criticizing your research in any way, shape or form, sir. I just really feel like, eventually, like, this might just become the norm. I know it might...
NNAMDIThe media might, in fact, become the masses. There are two aspects of that that I'd like you to address, Daniel Sieberg -- stay on the line, Andrew -- because one of the things that Andrew seems to be saying is that, look, knowledge is power. We can pull up an answer to almost any question on Wikipedia or Google in nanoseconds. And that's a good thing, right?
SIEBERGSure, in some cases. Let's say you're settling an argument at a bar. It's easy to find out what's the tallest building in the world. I think there's a difference, though, between information and knowledge. And that's a discussion that goes on a lot with technologists. And you think about just because you can look something up doesn't necessarily mean that you know it or that you experience it.
SIEBERGAnd because it's so easy and convenient, when you do take that away, what are you left with? And I think that, as human beings, I think, we've, you know, the brain is capable of adapting to lots of different situations. But I think that it works best when it's armed with knowledge and experience. Now, that's not to say that it's not wonderful to be able to access all this information whenever you can.
SIEBERGAnd I don't mean to suggest that, you know, Google is making us dumb because I don't necessarily believe that. I think that you can learn so much by being on the Web and being connected. But I hear from a lot of kids these days, younger folks, who seem to know everything about the world. But when you take away their devices, they're sort of lost. So, you know, there are times when your GPS isn't going to work.
SIEBERGThere are days when you're not going to get a cell phone signal. There are days when you're going to actually have to have a conversation, you know? So until the day when we're all plugged into the board and, you know, we don't need to be able to think for ourselves, then I think it's important to still find that balance.
NNAMDIAnd thank you very much for your call, Andrew. We're talking with Daniel Sieberg. He is the author of "The Digital Diet." He's also a science and technology contributor for several news networks and Details magazine. Do you think that technology has enhanced any of your relationships? Tell us how, 800-433-8850, or you can go on Twitter and join the conversation by using the Tech Tuesday hashtag.
NNAMDIWe move on now to Claire in Laurel, Md. Hi, Clare.
CLAIREHi there, Kojo. I wanted to tell you we had sons who were really brilliant with computers. And the -- by the time we got to the last one, we were so concerned of his preference for being on the computer rather than with people, that when I went to school, he came with me to a private school, which insisted on outdoor activities, boating, hiking and being with people and indoor jobs.
CLAIREEverybody in the school had to have a job to help keep the place running. And he came home with great social skills. I think he had good school social skills anyway, but I think he would have spent all this time on the computer. So I think it was worth it.
NNAMDISo he now has both social skills and computer skills, and he's a complete, rounded human being?
CLAIREHe's a really nice person that you'll -- I love to be with.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. Care to comment on that, Daniel Sieberg?
SIEBERGWell, I think that's great. I think you can have both, you know? And that's what I hope the message of the book is, you know? Again, it's not about -- it's not anti-technology, but it's not about getting rid of it. It's about not forgetting that you can go outside, go camping, have these social experiences and still be very adept at technology. It is possible to have both.
NNAMDIWe got an email -- and thank you for your call, Clare. We got an email from Francesca who says, "I'm a self-diagnosed online shopping addict, and no one who knows me seems to disagree. Soon after I recognized this vice, I decided to give it up for Lent this past spring. And let me tell you, it was tough. Unfortunately, 40 days without hours of daily browsing didn't really cure me. I still struggle with this weakness.
NNAMDI"I'm even doing it now as I listen to your show. Any suggestions on how to break this particular tech addiction? If so, you'd certainly save me and what's left of the money in my bank account."
SIEBERGWell, gosh. I mean, it is really easy.
NNAMDI'Cause the thing with -- about giving up things for Lent because the day after Lent, you multiply by 40 the amount of times you (unintelligible).
SIEBERGYeah, right. You're right. You get very back into it. You know, I think it's -- I mean, it's certainly very easy to go on to, let's say, Amazon or wherever and just start, you know, loading up your virtual shopping cart, check out, everything gets delivered, and that's wonderful. We can all agree that that's great. We get products in a hurry, and it's easy to browse around. If you're getting too overwhelmed by it, I mean, you know, I think it's -- you really have to step back.
SIEBERGAnd, I mean, doing it for Lent is one thing, but, you know, open up to somebody who you know, a family member or a friend, and have this conversation with them. And, you know, the next time you have this urge, you know, reach out to them and say, look, I have this desire to go on and go shopping again. What should I do? Maybe we should go outside, go for a walk, talk on the phone.
NNAMDIAny kind of websites or abs -- apps that might be able to help this?
SIEBERGYou know, there are programs like RescueTime, which will actually stop you from going to certain websites, if that's what you want. I mean, if you really need that help to block certain sites or shut them down, you know, there are programs that can help you do that and really put up those barriers. And maybe over time, once, you know, even more than 40 days, you can kind of, you know, you can find that balance where you can do it once in a while and not feel super guilty about it or slip back into that pattern.
NNAMDISome companies allow their employees to access Twitter and Facebook from work. Others block social networking and other so-called fun sites all together. How is digital overload affecting the corporate world?
SIEBERGI think the corporate world is increasingly -- I hope, increasingly aware of the digital overload. I think that in many cases it facilitates the digital overload that people -- you know, I remember getting a BlackBerry for the first time at a job and thinking how wonderful this was. It's so great. Now I can get my email wherever I am. And it didn't take long to realize that this is really more of an anchor or a tether than it is this sort of freedom.
SIEBERGSo, you know, I think that workplaces -- I would hope that they have more forums and discussions with, you know, on a sort of a company-wide basis, where they open up about these things. 'Cause often when I go to do a speaking engagement, it turns into something of a confessional, where people have these moments where they say, gosh, you know, I really wish that I could just get away from my email for even a couple of hours at a time, you know, in a day and just, you know, retreat to some place without all of this technology coming at me.
SIEBERGAnd, you know, the workplace can be an environment where it's very overwhelming. And it's not just when you're sitting at your desk. It's when you're on the go and, you know, you see people bumping into each other on the street, looking at their BlackBerries. I mean, it's so immersive these days. And so, you know, I think that it begins at the employee level.
SIEBERGAnd companies really have to come to the realization that this could actually hamper productivity, that employees are -- can be scattered, unfocused, and that multitasking is not always what it's cracked up to be, and that if you don't have these kinds of discussions with your employees, it can be detrimental to the bottom line. And companies listen to that sort of thing -- comes to the money.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Daniel Sieberg about "The Digital Diet." It's Tech Tuesday, and all the lines are filled. So you may want to go to our website, kojoshow.org, or join the conversation on Twitter by using the Tech Tuesday hashtag. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. We're discussing the phenomenon of digital or tech addiction with Daniel Sieberg. He is the author of the book, "The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan to Break your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in Your Life." He's a science and technology contributor for several news networks and Details magazine. The average U.S. household annual spends almost $1,400 a year on consumer electronics.
NNAMDIIs acquiring new technology about keeping up with the Joneses or about something else?
SIEBERGYou know, it's become about keeping up with the Joneses. And I think that, you know, advertising has put a lot of pressure on us to feel like we need all of these things in our lives. And, you know, I hope that -- I'm trying push back a little bit on that because, you know, these days, you see so many ads for smartphones, for tablets, for laptops, for computers, for so many different devices.
SIEBERGEverybody is always happy and smiling and having these wonderful experiences with these things. Well, that's not always the case. And, you know, the product life cycle of these things has winnowed so much. You know, it used to be that you could have a smartphone for a couple of years and not feel like you were redundant.
SIEBERGBut these days, you know, after a month, it's like when you drive the car of the lot, you already feel like you need the next model. And, you know, so I think that these companies, unfortunately, in some cases, are preying on people's feelings of, perhaps, inadequacy, feeling the need to keep up, if they don't have this, that they're left behind, you know. And that's not always the case.
SIEBERGI -- you know, I always say to people, even though I cover science and technology, if you came over to my house -- my apartment, you would not see the most tricked-out place with the latest and greatest stuff because I don't feel like I need everything, you know? As much as I get -- you know, I get to try out stuff and send it back, but, you know, I -- that's the kind of thing I encourage other people to do, is to really think about what you need.
SIEBERGAnd in the book, I try to get people to really dig in and apply technology to the things that you most need it for in your life, and the rest of it you don't need. And you'll -- it's like getting rid of the clutter.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here now, we have Emil in Washington, Md. Emil, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
EMILHi, Kojo. I'm actually calling with something of, I guess, of a warning about these horrors of technology that might not had yet been voiced, which is kind of in response to something to an earlier caller said, which -- as though he was talking about how our intelligence has been expanded...
EMIL...by accessed information.
EMILYeah, the thing that people don't, I think, give sufficient attention to is what happens when technology fails us? When the phone call that you absolutely must make suddenly doesn't goes through because you're off the network, when the GPS is suddenly telling you to turn left into a wall -- leaving aside the whole idea of giving equal credibility to the opinions of a quack online as opposed to the opinion of an expert -- there is a downside to that kind of reliance on technology, which is that when the technology fails, that suddenly we are inept innocents.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because that's one of the things that Daniel deals with in this book also, that, you know, a lot of times, we're not using our brain as our primary resource.
SIEBERGExactly. And it's such a wonderful part of our lives, you know, that we are capable of thinking for ourselves and working through problems. And sometimes, we get too lazy when it comes to our technology, that we think it's going to solve all of our problems. And we don't, you know, take the time to figure out the directions ourselves or ask somebody a question, or, you know, find our way through a problem.
SIEBERGNow, again, granted it's not going to work all the time. But, you know, I think that it's a muscle. And it gets weak if we don't use it on a more regular basis and challenge ourselves to be problem solvers. Yes, it can be enhanced with technology. But as the caller points out, it doesn't always work. And, you know, fortunately, our brain is always there, so we can call on it if we need it.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Emil. Here is Joe in Dulles, Va. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEYes. Thank you. I am an electrical engineer and engineering physicist with a 33-year career in electronics. And I was responsible, to some extent, for supporting the new digital age with the burgeoning of microprocessors, being a computer architect in early years. And it migrated into other disciplines. But, in spite of being in this discipline, I am very disappointed in the directions that technology has gone.
JOEOf all of our possible capabilities in the United States industrial complex, we have leaned more toward products that can be bought by everyone in the family. They're more for entertainment. And my -- to my chagrin, I've even seen my professional cohorts tending toward a reliance on technology approaches that, really, we don't need for even our design approaches and the complex electronics world.
JOEAnd things that have been useful, for example, once having to go through technical manuals to find parts and data sheets over hours can now be done in minutes for designers such as myself. These are the types of things that are very advantageous. But there is even a tendency to attempt to design by email now. And the flood of emails can be so outrageous that I have spent from 9 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. in the morning going through two hours of email -- or rather two days of email just to extract a few gems.
JOESo there's multiple heads to this. I compliment Mr. Sieberg on his direction as a technical Frankenstein who has helped create some of this in a small way. I do agree.
JOEAnd notice, too, that because of our opening the doors of trading with China and the slave labor that it has offered, our industrial complex has gone through a transformation from being able to create incredibly complex and small volume systems which, now, after the closure of ten thousands of business since the Clinton administration, now, we have overseas production of these toys and entertainment. And it is not the direction to go. So there's my contribution.
NNAMDIYou know, Daniel Sieberg, one could have, in some measure, predicted this because we are an economy that has always been driven by consumers going shopping.
NNAMDIAnd so, regardless of whether or not we felt that our technology would be able to help us end world hunger and prevent disease and create better lives for everybody in the whole world, in the final analysis, we are a free-market economy that depends on people individually being able to buy stuff. So we went from mainframe computers to the laptops and the mobile devices we have today that each individual can have. Can we turn back?
SIEBERGWe also love convenience, and all of this stuff makes things sometimes a little too convenient. You know, I think that the genie is out of the proverbial bottle, the ship -- the horse has left the court, whatever sort of metaphor you want to use. I don't think there's any way that we're going to turn all this around necessarily, which is why, you know, that's where I hope that the book comes in and having these types of discussions and awareness and empowerment, which, you know, I think that, perhaps, a lot of this is happening so quickly, you know?
SIEBERGHe was talking about technical manuals and programming and that sort of thing, but let's remember that the smartphone has only become, really, a part of our lives in, let's say, the last four years, five years. That's so -- and these days, it's hard to find someone who doesn't have one in a professional sense. So having to deal with all that stuff, finding the right balance and the right relationship with it, you know, it's accelerating, I think, at a pace that we have not really quite gotten comfortable with yet.
NNAMDIIf you're meeting someone for coffee and they plop that smartphone down on the table, you might suspect that you don't have that person's full attention. How much of this is about good manners and managing people's expectations?
SIEBERGI think so much of this is about that. And, you know, I hope I can say this on the radio, but when you put your smartphone out there, you dump it on the table, I call that a tech turd because basically what you're saying to the person across from you is anything that comes into that device is going to be more important and more interesting than what you say to me. And it's like inviting this guest that -- the guest is -- the only thing they're going to do is interrupt everything.
SIEBERGJust blah, blah, blah, blah, you know, light flashing, vibrate, buzz, buzz, buzz, right? That's all -- that's -- their only job is to interrupt everything. And so I encourage people to -- if you have to have your smartphone out, acknowledge why you have to have it out. I'm expecting an important call. I won't pay any attention to it unless that call comes in. I promise you have my full attention.
SIEBERGOr put it away for an hour. Otherwise, why did you go out with that person in the first place? And it just seems to me we sort of lost the script here. It was a novelty in the beginning. Now, it's becoming more of an annoyance.
NNAMDIHere is Gregory in Rockville, Md. Gregory, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GREGORYHi. I'm an educator and a digital immigrant working with digital natives, juniors and seniors. And we actually did a unit last year about multitasking and asking a question whether technology is the greatest thing on earth. And my students shared some conversations, for example, going to a soccer game and -- being in a soccer game and having the parents sitting on the bench with their BlackBerries, watching the game and not really feeling that, you know, they're really being watched by their parents.
GREGORYAnd we also found some websites where tech -- tips for an interview, that you shouldn't answer your phone during a job interview. So I'm wondering if students and young people are getting suggestions and tips on how to live in the digital world and not insult digital immigrants like me.
SIEBERGI think that...
GREGORYAnd my final comment is that I want to stress that all the information that we can get in the world doesn't mean that we're wise people. And we work with students, trying to help them recognize that, although they have all that information at their fingertips, there's a difference between that and wisdom. Thank you.
SIEBERGSure. Exactly. No, I think that -- I think young people could benefit from that sort of course or experience greatly, you know, kids of all ages and parents and adults, too. You know, a good friend of mine, his 5-year-old son was bowling, and he bowled his first strike. And he came over to his dad and he said, guess what, Dad. I just knocked all the pins down. He said, you missed it 'cause you were looking at your BlackBerry.
SIEBERGAnd this friend of mine...
SIEBERG...he was really hurt by it, you know? And so I think that whether it's, you know, checking your device in an interview or, you know, being just more aware of how you use technology in a social setting, I think that's sort of the new Miss Manners these days. I mean, people can really benefit from that sort of thing.
NNAMDIGregory, thank you very much for your call. On to Ramine (sp?) in Montgomery County, Md. Ramine, your turn.
RAMINEYes. Hello, Kojo. I work for a large corporation here in Washington, D.C. area. And it's funny that you -- Dan mentioned that, you know, that big corporations are culprits in terms of, you know, unleashing technology on the populace and changing cultures. Well, suffice it to say, my company declared an email-free day, and it has encouraged the -- us, you know, techies to pick up the phone or walk across the cubes or offices and do -- conduct business.
RAMINESo it would be an interesting experiment, based on what Dan mentioned, to see how our behavior, albeit for a day, is going to be changed and what kinds of challenges we're going to have after so many -- you know, after, you know, emails and IMs being part of the daily process is out of the equation. So I have that comment.
NNAMDIWell, how about cell phones, Ramine? Here's an email we got from Renee. "After our household went through a financial bump last year, one of the things we gave up to save money was our cell phones. It took some time for us to stop feeling naked when we went out because we did not have our cell phone with us. But after a year, my husband and I are still cell phone-less, and, to our surprise, life is still going on.
NNAMDI"I'm amazed at the number of times people are shocked, if not downright hostile when we are not instantly at this -- at their disposal." It gets back to your point, Daniel, about people's expectations.
SIEBERGAbsolutely. And, you know, also, you don't have to give up all these things. I mean, it's fine if you can find that sort of balance or if that's what you need to do. And doing it on occasion, getting rid of your email for a day or, you know, dropping out of social networks for a week or, you know, getting rid of your smartphone for a couple of days can be very illuminating. And it can -- you know, you can figure out who your real friends are, where your time is going, where your energy is going, what sort of the other things you'd like to do with your life.
SIEBERGYou know, it can be very ,very beneficial. And, again, I hope that the book does that sort of thing and gives people that sort of opportunity to explore these things because technology is not going away, right? So we've got to find a way to live with it the way we want to.
NNAMDIRochelle in Arlington, Va., you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROCHELLEHi. My husband used to be in the Air Force, and so we moved around a lot. And our friends and family are scattered, you know, from coast to coast. And one great thing we found about social media is we can't fly to every wedding or see people all the time or see, you know, every -- you know, visit as much as we'd like.
ROCHELLEBut, you know, what's great about, say, Facebook, we can see -- we weren't able to attend, say, my cousin's wedding, you know, in Toronto, but, you know, we could see the wedding photos and kind of keep in -- just generally keep in touch with our friends and family all over the place. So that's one really great thing that social -- that Facebook does for our life. But on the other...
SIEBERGAbsolutely. There's now Facebook video chat. Google Plus has got Hangout, where you can have a group video chat. You know, my family lives in Canada. That is a fantastic element of social networks. My concern is when it becomes the primary way of communicating.
NNAMDIRochelle, you were about to say, on the other hand. We only have about 30 seconds left, but go ahead.
ROCHELLEOh. On the other hand, I would just wish that people, when they're crossing the street or, you know -- they're accidentally jaywalking because they're on their smartphone or something like that. And that's...
NNAMDIYeah, that's good advice, Rochelle.
SIEBERGIt is a real problem.
NNAMDIDaniel, if the idea of a digital diet seems overwhelming, what small steps can people take to reduce their dependence on technology and enhance their relationships without going all-in in 30 seconds or so?
SIEBERGThe book is more a la carte than it is, you know, a full-on buffet. I hope that there's tips and tricks and all sorts of information people can extrapolate from it. It doesn't have to be a full-on digital diet. You know, it's really meant to just give you those tools and empowerment to use throughout your life, and, going forward, this kind of long-term strategy, not a short-term thing. But it's all about making your life better.
NNAMDIDaniel Sieberg's book is called "The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan to Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in Your Life." Daniel is a science and technology contributor for several news networks and Details magazine. Daniel Sieberg, thank you so much for joining us.
SIEBERGKojo, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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