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Facebook or deodorant: What matters more?

I recently conducted a survey via social media to better understand our relationship with the personal technologies that increasingly define our daily lives.  After all, we’re glued to smart phones, addicted to Facebook, Twitter and texting, and seem to be caught in an endless hunt for wi-fi.

The survey explored a range of questions, such as how we personify our relationship with technology, how our life might change if we had to live without our favorite gadget for a year, as well as what we’d be willing to sacrifice in order to keep our favorite tech (Sleep? Deodorant? Proper nutrition?).

Boomers and Xers display the most angst over whether our addiction to technology is good or bad, in large part because we can recall a time when we weren’t tethered to work 24/7.  Among Gen Y respondents this issue is a nonstarter – like debating the merits of electricity. (Hasn’t the entire knowledge base of the human race always been two clicks away?)

We have a love/hate relationship with our personal technologies.  We love it because it’s like a personal assistant, helping to keep us in the know and be productive.

We hate it when it reveals things about us we’re not proud of – e.g., we’re socially needy, we’re workaholics, we can’t control an obvious addiction.
A few themes emerged.

Technology is our concierge:  We accomplish more things more easily.   Our smart phone is like a best friend – always there, always helping us. 
  • “Technology is like a brother to me.”
  • “A valued assistant.”
  • “Technology is like my third child.  It plays a hugely significant role in my life.”
  • “We’re tight, me and technology.  Close chums.”
  • “It’s like electricity.  Always there.”

Technology enslaves us:  We are tethered 24/7.  While respondents see this as helpful to our personal relationships, it comes at the price of always being “at work.” Gen Y respondents seem to fear that being off the grid equates with being socially irrelevant.
  • “Addicted and in constant pursuit of more.”
  • “Cell phones have become a socially acceptable drug with no cure.”
  • “It’s a devil and a saint.”
  • “If I don’t respond to a my friend’s text right away it’s taken as an insult.”
Hygiene matters less than connectivity:  Respondents would give up deodorant before giving up their favorite technology – perhaps a sign that our personal technologies have isolated us, so poor hygiene might not matter much.
  • “I’m locked away emailing most of the day so giving up deodorant wouldn’t be an issue.”
  • “I’m sure there are plenty of unwashed, staying up all night Facebooking and Dorito-eating folks descending into that abyss right now.”

We hunger for more meaningful connections:  Because of texting and Facebook, our personal connections are broad but not deep.  This became evident as respondents reflected on how their life would change if they gave up their favorite personal technologies for a year:
  • “My personal interactions would be narrower, but deeper.”
  • “Less texting, more face to face.”
  • “Less time ignoring caller ID and actually picking up the phone and realizing someone really did need to talk to me at that moment.”
  • “I’d probably have trouble handling the small daily stuff but might actually have more time to focus on big important issues and relationships.”
Clearly, there is no turning back.  Nor should we.  There are countless ways for consumer technology companies to make technology more of a friend and less of a frenemy.  Nintendo’s Wii has been successful because it brought back face-to-face interaction to gaming.  Apple’s success is due in large part to how its design and functionality makes technology simple, inviting and less intrusive.  Bing has picked up market share by addressing the issue of information overload, smartly positioning itself as a decision engine.  And Best Buy’s “twelp force” has brought a degree of humanity and personalization to the act of shopping for electronics online.