Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More Americans Sense a Downside

... to an Always Plugged-In Existence

by Marjorie Connelly

The New York Times (June 06 2010)

While most Americans say devices like smartphones, cellphones and personal computers have made their lives better and their jobs easier, some say they have been intrusive, increased their levels of stress and made it difficult to concentrate, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

Younger people are particularly affected: almost thirty percent of those under 45 said the use of these devices made it harder to focus, while less than ten percent of older users agreed.

Neil Erickson of Akron, Ohio, blames his lack of focus on his cellphone. "It's distracting, but you never know if something is going to be important", he said in a follow-up interview. Mr Erickson, who is 28 and studying computer engineering, added, "I suppose I could cut down on checking e-mail and phone use, but I probably won't".

Technology has simplified life in many ways for Liz Clark, 49, a Realtor from Rye, New York., by allowing her to shop online, stay in touch with friends and keep tabs on her three children. "I can text them, and they get back to me immediately", Ms Clark said.

But while mobile devices and PCs have eased stress for some, just about as many said the devices had heightened the amount of stress they felt.

"Every single electronic device absolutely causes some stress", said Warren Gerhard, 55, of Cape May, New Jersey. Because Mr Gerhard, a retired member of the Coast Guard, is a volunteer emergency medical technician ("EMT") worker, he cannot turn his cellphone off.

People seem to find it hard to shut down after work. Almost forty percent check work e-mail after hours or on vacation.

Some people can't imagine living without their computers. About a third of those polled said they couldn't, while 65 percent said they either probably or definitely could get along without their PCs. The people who are most computer-dependent tend to be better educated and more affluent.

While most said the use of devices had no effect on the amount of time they spent with their family, a few were concerned. One in seven married respondents said the use of these devices was causing them to see less of their spouses. And one in ten said they spent less time with their children under eighteen.

The nationwide poll was conducted May 6 to 9, using both land-line phones and cellphones. Interviews were conducted with 855 adults, of whom 726 said they used a personal computer or had a smartphone. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for all adults and four percentage points for computer and smartphone users. Complete results and methodology are available at

Marina Stefan contributed reporting.

Bill Totten


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