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Caution: don’t read this while crossing the road

Has our obsession with phones gone just too far now?

Last week I read a tech news story about a smart pedestrian crossing that lights up to warn drivers when a phone user steps into the road – because so many of us now don’t look up from our screens when crossing.

New smart crossing warns when phone users step into the road
Do you ever look up from your phone?

That same day a friend and ex PR client of mine  posted how salespeople at a technology trade show seemed more engaged with their phones than talking to prospects on their stands.

Has our fascination with mobile devices gotten out of control? I admit I now have to strictly police my access to social media during work hours to stop getting hooked by frivolous conversations on my phone.

So, perhaps tech journalist and blogger Mark Hillary has a point when he argues that phone companies – like alcohol, tobacco and gambling corporations – need to think about investing in programmes to prevent addiction.

But it’s not just about those people at the extreme end of the scale. Technology is causing many of us to suffer “continuous partial attention”. We’re always connected and we can’t completely focus on other things.

One study suggests that just having your phone with you (even when you aren’t looking at it) reduces your thinking ability!

And psychologists have even coined a term – “nomophobia” – for the fear of being without your mobile phone.

The problem is of course that smartphone technology and apps are brilliantly (and rightly so) designed to pull you in. Who hasn’t heard of the way each Facebook ‘Like’ we receive sends a shot of dopamine (the pleasure chemical) to our brains.

Tellingly, there’s now a movement in the Silicon Valley tech community (including one of the chaps who actually developed the Facebook Like) that is encouraging people to unplug themselves from technology.

As a technology PR, I’m not going to bite the hand that feeds me. But I do think in both our work and personal lives we need to find a way to achieve a balance.

Now, where’s my phone?