Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Disorder: Disconnect Anxiety

Have we really come to a point where the stress one feels without access to a mobile messaging device can actually be deemed its own form of anxiety? A recent study by Canadian research company Solutions Research Group discovered that consumers can be essentially addicted to mobile devices, experiencing some sort of psychological withdrawal when they can't gain access.

As sad as it is, I can imagine this. I've been out with people who can't help but sneak a peek at their BlackBerry at every "ding" or "buzz", and I've been guilty of it myself, having reached over in the middle of the night to check e-mails on a handset I was reviewing. On a recent vacation, I had no access to e-mail, and was very close to jumping into a Starbucks just to log on and get my "fix"! To think there are worse people out there is just absolutely frightening.

Solutions Research described Disconnect Anxiety to the CTV as involving "various feelings of disorientation and nervousness experienced when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access for a period of time." The company's President Kaan Yigit adds: "What we call disconnection anxiety is not just related or confined to people with BlackBerries, but it's a much broader societal trend. We see it among teens, young adults, older adults, but also seniors."

So are we too connected? On the one hand, technology helps to keep us in touch in ways we never could before, fostering increased productivity, and thus making it possible for workers to avoid overtime in the office, or having to finish a report at home (now you can easily do it on the train or plane ride home!) But on the other hand, are people truly understanding that these devices are meant to free you from the office, not shackle you to it?

I've spoken before about the importance of finding that balance between work and home life. Should someone be checking e-mails during dinner or family time? The answer to this question is an absolute no. Shoud he be checking them while away at a conference where access to his laptop isn't available? Sure.

But on the opposite side, we can't ignore the issue that has been around since before the dawn of the BlackBerry, small and sleek laptop, or tiny mobile phone. Should this same worker be chatting with the family during business hours? Probably not, but chances are he does it anyway!

Essentially, a bit of crossover on either end is OK, and should be tolerated. If you receive an important e-mail at home and happen to see it, you'll feel horrible all night if you don't respond. And if a family member has a big issue and needs to chat during work for 5 minutes, take the time to talk. The important thing is to use discretion. Take advantage of a mobile device in ways that will help improve performance at your job, but not at the expense of your personal relationships. In doing so, you might be able to enjoy the technology instead of loathe its shackling existence. And we might just be able to keep one bogus "disorder" out of the psychological books.

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