Could you survive a Digital Detox?

Rebecca Wilson asks if we've all become nomophobes with FOMO, or if it's still possible to take a technology break?
Addiction, Detox, Digital, Dubai, ESP International, FOMO, ISES, Nomophobe, Rebecca Wilson, Smartphone, Comment, Broadcast Business

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As managing director of ESP International Event Recruitment and President of ISES Middle East chapter, Rebecca Wilson knows a thing or two about the pressures of staying in touch. Have we all become nomophobes with FOMO, or is it still possible for event professionals to take a break from technology?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, revealed on the 25th anniversary of the world’s greatest invention that he hadn’t anticipated the indisputable success of his life-changing technological advancement, or the subsequent negative effects on relationships.

The events industry is notorious for being a 24/7/365 business where we are on call for our clients and always ‘need’ to be contactable, that’s the nature of the beast. But is this really necessary? Our companies operated just fine before we were all linked and mobile. Emails didn’t constantly ping into your inbox, but the phone did ring a lot. Ah, the good old days ... or were they?

The debate rages as to whether the new digital age is as good for our sanity as it is for our business and clearly there are indisputable and life-changing benefits in both the workplace and home life.

I personally represent the notion that ‘screens are everywhere, heads are always lowered, and this has a negative effect on our business and personal lives’. However it is important to point out that I see — and value — the immense contribution that social and business media has to event marketing, connecting people and enhancing the visitor experience. It is over or unnecessary use that I object to.

From a business perspective, our industry —famed for its love of face-to-face — has, over time, seemingly accepted the use of phones during meetings and events. It is now commonplace to find delegates checking messages, yet it is impossible to focus on or contribute 100 per cent to a conversation when you are looking at or reading other content. The average office worker checks their email 30 times every hour and typical mobile users check their phones more than 150 times per day — shocking statistics that cannot be ignored.

Is it fair to say that if people are on their phones during events, the sessions aren’t engaging enough? Is there lack of respect and professionalism on the part of the user? Or is it simply that people are so addicted that they just cannot help themselves? I am pleased to say that this was not the case at the Inspiration Sessions held by the International Special Events Society in January, where we were all so immersed in the speakers and their stories that there was no need to look elsewhere.

Thankfully, despite speculation for many years about whether exhibitions will become obsolete as a result of being able to find everything we need online, the strength of meeting in person has largely prevailed and millions of bustling shows welcome visitors every year, all over the world.

But, even at the most exciting event imaginable, people are busy taking and uploading photos and missing many minutes of the entertainment they have paid for. Where has our obsession with ‘sharing’ everything come from?

Interviews have not escaped the curse. We hear so many stories of the employer interrupting the proceedings while they answer their phone, which has a negative effect on the way the company culture and brand is portrayed to a potential applicant and, in turn, the market.

From an employers’ perspective, use of non-work screens in the workplace is one of my key concerns. The younger generation have actually grown up with mobiles and tablets so it’s no wonder they are seemingly unable to put them down.

I worry that this over dependence is going to lead to an ‘apocalypse’, where employees are simply unable to concentrate on their job without checking for updates. It has been proven that attention spans have reduced from 12 seconds for the average human being, to eight, which is actually less than a goldfish! This unwelcome distraction reduces output, efficiency and leads to mistakes being made — all of which have a negative impact the bottom line and the atmosphere in the office.

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When it comes to our social lives and skills, I genuinely feel that many of us have lost sight of what is going on in the world immediately around us and are missing so many of the simple joys of everyday life, like watching the world go by, a good conversation, listening to music, reading a paper or book — even that is done on a screen now.

I may be old school, but I love people and life and laughter, and the interaction between them has become stifled behind an invisible barrier. I was recently moved and inspired by the viral video ‘Live life the real way’, which epitomises this.

Social media has a lot to answer for — it is both our best friend and our nemesis, taking over our lives. In restaurants the buzz of conversation that gives atmosphere is replaced by couples and groups all starting at screens. A recent experience in a popular restaurant on a Friday night was totally marred by the combination of silence and artificial light shining up from the tables around me.

FOMO (fear of missing out) is widespread, and Nomophobia (a phrase coined in 2010) is the clinical term for smartphone addiction, or ‘no-mobile-phone-phobia’.

Yes, it even has its own title now! The symptoms are generally recognised to include an inability to ever turn the phone off, obsessive checking for missed calls or notifications, constantly topping up the power-hungry smartphone battery, and is more common in young people. Sound familiar?

There is so much information out there regarding our continued dependence on technology, but the reality of it only sinks in once you’re actually ‘cut off’. First, there is the financial loss — individuals, businesses and entire economies have become so reliant on an internet connection that when submarine broadband cables are cut, as is relatively commonplace in this region, companies lose out on millions of dirhams in business.

But then there are the physical and mental issues caused by too much screen time. From well-documented everyday conditions such as ‘text neck’ and ‘iPad shoulder’ and potentially more serious, undiscovered consequences of continuous connectivity.

According to IT industry research, the effects of the habit can outstrip even addictive drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. There is no opting out of the digital age, it is the reality and the future, so we need to focus on the positives which, despite my rant, do stack up in their masses.

It’s a personal choice, but you can always choose to ‘disconnect to reconnect’, giving yourself the opportunity to truly unplug and enjoy life, save time and become more efficient. From banning internal emails within the office to going all out and having a complete digital detox, I dare you to take action, if you can.

In the meantime, I can be contacted on Whatsapp, SMS, BBM, Kik, Viber, Facetime, Skype, Vine, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook and MySpace.

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