Larry Rosen, a professor and research psychologist at California State University, came to Hong Kong recently to talk about the impact of digital technologies on Generation C, the connected generation of young people born since 1995. As he shared the findings from his studies, many of his observations reverberated with me and my peers.
I can relate to the negative effects of continually going off the task at hand each time I hear a "ding". Until Rosen's talk, I considered myself to be multitasking. In fact, I was task-switching and being rather unproductive.
In one study, Rosen put two groups of teenagers in separate rooms. Both groups were asked to stay there while waiting to go to another area to participate in a study. In fact, the study was observing the two groups while they waited.
Both groups were told that mobile phone use in the rooms was prohibited. The first group was permitted to keep their phones with them, and the second group was asked to leave their phones at the door.
After 15 minutes, the research team observed that both groups followed instructions and did not engage in any phone use. However, while the students in the group who had their phones waited patiently, those in the second group began to exhibit symptoms of anxiety. The phoneless students were restless, tense and apprehensive. A term has been coined for those who exhibit this kind of stress - "nomophobia", the fear of being out of mobile phone contact and missing out ("nomo" meaning "no mo-bile").
Rosen's talk helped me to reflect on my own bad habits. I became more aware of my task-switching tendencies as well as my need to get connected as soon as I have a free minute.
One day, as my two daughters were role playing, I overheard the older one tell her sister: "OK, this time I'm the baby and you are the mummy." So, my younger daughter climbed onto my chair and started tapping the keys on my computer. Her actions underscored my need to wean myself from the digital world and be more connected with my real world. So, I've started by staying offline and enjoying the view when I'm travelling by car, and turning off my e-mail application when I'm writing this column.
If you also have mild nomophobia, you might enjoy two picture books. Lane Smith's It's a Book is a tongue-in-cheek look at a donkey's attempts to understand what a book is. "How do you scroll down?" and "Where's your mouse?" are just two of his many questions, to which the book-reading monkey patiently and repeatedly answers: "It's a book."
Readers familiar with Margaret Wise Brown's classic book Goodnight Moon will laugh out loud at Goodnight iPad, a parody written by - get this - Ann Droyd. Every buzzword in our brave new world is cleverly worked into this rhyme, which looks and reads like the original.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them bringmeabook.org.hk