Since our prehistoric ancestors used stone tools to start fires and hunt for prey, technology has made us more efficient and effective at what we do. It has brought us convenience, improved communication, and — relatively speaking — long and comfortable lives.
However, any good thing taken to the extreme becomes bad. Aristotle knew this, proposing that to achieve happiness and success, people should cultivate virtues at intermediate levels between deficiencies and excesses. Sleep is good for you. Sleeping for 16 hours, not so much. The Buddha too was a proponent of “the middle path.” In the same way, technology usage left unchecked can also have a devastating effect on our productivity and well-being.
Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, coined the physiological state of “flow” back in in 1975, as a state of deep immersion in a single task where the rest of the world seems to just slip away. McKinsey found that when executives are in flow, they are up to five times more productive.
Yet, today’s typical workplace is characterized by the sight and sound of desktop and smartphone notifications, keeping executives in a state of hyper-responsiveness that would make Ivan Pavlov proud. In fact, Facebook’s in-app notifications ring a bell not too dissimilar to the one Pavlov’s many dogs would have salivated at. Push-notifications are sapping our ability to get into flow, to do our best work, and to leave the office feeling truly accomplished. Instead, we’re more likely to leave the office feeling like we’ve worked all day with little to show for it.