These days a smartphone can dig up information on almost anything, but one function you won’t find in the settings menu is whether it’s killing your career.
Years ago, Apple supremo Steve Jobs flew in rock legend Lou Reed to entertain his key executives at a conference in San Francisco, but when Reed took to the stage, hardly anyone looked up from their iPhones. An infuriated Reed cranked the sound to a dangerous level, but to no effect. Exasperated, the ailing Jobs led by example and started strutting across the floor alone. That did get everyone’s attention, with all handsets duly put away. Jobs remarked later: “People sometimes need to be shown that it’s OK to turn off.”
But with Jobs (and now Reed) gone, it seems his message is forgotten. Smartphones in western markets seem to border on an obsession, with some calling them the death of manners and conversation. In parts of Asia, excessive usage is now recognised as a bona-fide addiction.
Zhaopin.com, a well-known recruitment website in China, recently interviewed over 10,000 white-collar workers from 28 mainland cities on their mobile phone usage. A staggering 80 per cent admitted a severe addiction to their phone. Just over 79 per cent said they kept their handset on during the night; 60 per cent indicated that they cut down face-to-face communication; 69 per cent that they grab their phone first thing after waking; and 64 per cent that they use it before going to sleep. On average, they’re glued to their screens four hours a day.
It’s a similar story in Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong Research Association reporting that 53 per cent of 1100 residents it sampled were afraid of being separated from their smartphone and suffer acute anxiety if they are – a key symptom of withdrawal.
In South Korea, smartphone (and internet) addiction has become so rampant that policymakers have decided to act by implementing various treatment and prevention measures. The Health and Welfare Ministry plans to provide health insurance coverage to obsessive-compulsives, equating the problem to tobacco and alcohol addictions. It’s also instituting programs to provide accessible and affordable treatment for smartphone addicts.
Generally speaking, such people are described as wanting to be in constant communication with others, even when there is no absolute need. And employers have had enough of them. Arriving at work every day bleary-eyed and disengaged is not only impacting the personal careers of the “afflicted”, but the productivity of the companies employing them. Government treatment programs may help long-term, but employers are feeling the pinch on their bottom line right now.
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