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"Device Addiction" Hounds Silicon Valley

Even those who profit from technology use are worried about our growing dependence on devices.

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By McCarton Ackerman

07/24/12

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Even those who manufacture the machines are not immune to the siren song of technological "devices." In Silicon Valley, device addiction is becoming a concern among employers at some of the world's biggest tech companies. Despite the fact that most of the companies in the area profit from people spending more time online, many tech executives are beginning to examine their role in the increasing problem of technology dependence and its potentially harmful impact on productivity and personal interactions. “We’re done with this honeymoon phase and now we’re in this phase that says, ‘Wow, what have we done?’” says Soren Gordhamer, who organizes Wisdom 2.0, an annual conference he started in 2010 about the pursuit of balance in the digital age. “It doesn’t mean what we’ve done is bad. There’s no blame. But there is a turning of the page.”

"Internet use disorder" will be included in the appendix of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders next year, but it has yet to be deemed an official condition. Some companies are beginning to take action to prevent "device addiction" among their own employees. Google, for example, started a company-wide “mindfulness” movement to teach employees self-awareness and to improve their ability to focus. Many employees aren't even aware that the devices they use have addictive properties. “It’s this basic cultural recognition that people have a pathological relationship with their devices,” says Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who lectures about the science of self-control at the Stanford School of Medicine. “People feel not just addicted, but trapped.” McGonigal also believes that interactive gadgets could create a persistent sense of emergency by setting off stress systems in the brain. However, some higher-ups in Silicon Valley companies claim there's very little they can do to prevent the issue. “The responsibility we have is to put the most powerful capability into the world,” says Scott Kriens, chairman of Juniper Networks. “We do it with eyes wide open that some harm will be done. Someone might say, ‘Why not do so in a way that causes no harm?’ That’s naïve. The alternative is to put less powerful capability in people’s hands and that’s a bad trade-off.”

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