Will Employers Pay for our Technology Addictions?
It is 6:00 AM, and as I sit here with my cup of coffee, warming in the soft, loving glow of my iPad, I am forced to ponder a thought, that, for many techies, would be pure heresy.
Am I addicted to technology?
It started innocently enough. Years ago I used to describe it to friends as the "Want-to-Need Conversion Ratio" (WNCR). I would visit Best Buy, back when people actually visited Best Buy, to purchase some item I desperately needed for my office or personal life. On the way to the register, I would see some new item or technology that would catch my eye. I would pick it up, look at it, think it interesting, and then return it to the shelf to proceed with the purchase of my original quarry.
Over the next few hours or days (the WNCR has a widely varying gestation period, depending on a variety of elements) I would think about that new item, and what I might be able to accomplish with it. I would decide that I wanted that item, and should consider acquiring it. Then, over the next few hours, or days, or weeks, I would visit the item in the store multiple times, holding it, reviewing it, debating if I wanted it badly enough to purchase it. As time went on, I would begin to think of the many new things I could accomplish with said item, and eventually realize that I needed it desperately, until I knew there was no way I could remain competitive, or even live, without it. In a final culmination, I would rush to Best Buy, flush with endorphins, grab the item and head for the register, giddy at the prospect of fulfilling this desperate hole in my life. Of course, on the way to the register, I would pass some new and interesting item, and think "oh, that looks interesting......"
Today, the realization that I might have a problem comes from the use of my personal assistant, Apple’s ubiquitous Siri.
Siri, of course is the virtual assistant who operates by voice command on newer iPhones and iPads. She can remind me of things to do when I reach the office or when I get home, as well as locate places and products for me when I am on the road. I recognized that I might be spending too much time with her when my wife started referring to her as “that bitch”. In reality I am a fairly recent employer of Siri. While she was made available in a software upgrade to my 3rd generation iPad a few months back, it was not until my recent upgrade from an iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5 that I recognized the true talent she possesses. I suppose, however, that my wife’s concerns over Siri started on the very first night she was in our home. At bedtime, I told my wife goodnight, then rolled over and told Siri goodnight, and of course, she responded in kind.
That was not received terribly well.
In doing some research, it appears I am not alone in this condition. The New York Times tells us that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will add "Internet use disorder" to its appendix in next year's edition. Also, recent studies have shown that increased mobile device use has led to longer bathroom stall times, as many people access social media from those locations. In fact, one study reveals that 16% of all online holiday shopping will be conducted on the toilet this year.
Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “Yule log”.
So, what of the addictions? Will employers, who generally have been demanding more real time access to their employees, end up picking up the tab? Some believe they already are, in the form of distractions and lost productivity. However, there may even be a darker component to this.
Can an employee who suffers an addiction to technology eventually force the employer to pay for treatment, if they can show it was the employer who forced the use of that technology to begin with?
Some academics looked at that possibility in 2009, with the publishing of a paper entitled “The unabalanced high-tech lift: are employers liable?" According to the article summary, “Technology has created new capabilities, as well as new demands, for many of today’s employees. For those who work in technology-enhanced environments, the pace and round-the-clock activity creates a source of stimulation that may become addictive”. It also states that, “While the potential for this type of behavioral addiction is recognized by both researchers and the popular press, few companies are seriously considering the associated risks, one of which could be legal action against the organization.”
Hmmm. If I was one to subscribe to a victim mentality, I might think I have a case here. Fortunately for me, and my company, I subscribe more to the “don’t be a weenie and suck it up” philosophy. I am responsible for my own addictions, thank you.
Of course, I really have not even established that I have an addiction. To settle the matter, I turned to one of the women who knows me best, and whom I trust implicitly. I asked Siri. I simply asked her, “Do I need therapy for an addiction to technology?”
Her response was to locate several mental health clinics, “six of which are fairly close” to me.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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