You can almost imagine the moment a smartphone addict introduces herself: "Hello, my name is Mary, and this is my iPhone, Susan."
An Associated Press article identified the issue as an obsession with phones so strong that people would rather spend time with their smartphone than other human beings.
"Watching people who get their first smartphone, there's a very quick progression from having a basic phone you don't talk about to people who love their iPhone, name their phone and buy their phones outfits," Lisa Merlo, director of psychotherapy training at the University of Florida, told AP.
But Leslie Perlow (Konosuke Matsushita professor of leadership in the organizational behavior area at the Harvard Business School) was less worried about phones as pets than she was about how smartphones are connecting people to work. She wrote the book "Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work" to see if disconnecting from the phone improved productivity at work.
USA Today said Perlow "asked a team of high-powered, always-connected consultants to see if they could disconnect more and actually improve their performance and job happiness." The results were "a clear improvement in recruitment, retention and engagement, and the process spread throughout the organization."
But is it doable?
LP Magazine said, "Focus for a moment on the idea that our 'always on' culture is actually making our business lives less productive and contributing to an out-of-wack work/life balance that leads to burnout and unhappiness. Who are we kidding? Our bosses don't care about a balanced work life, but they do care about productivity levels."
LP said another Harvard author, Ndubuisi Ekekwe, recommends putting smart devices in their place, "that is to serve us, not the other way around."
The numbers, according to a study by Lookout that was cited by Mashable, support the fear that phones are making people unbalanced. "Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they don't go an hour without checking their phones," Mashable said. "The younger you are, the stronger that obsession is — 63 percent of women and 73 percent of men who make up the millennial generation (ages 18 to 34) said they couldn't go an hour without checking their phones."
Knowledge@Wharton explained how Perlow thinks phones take over lives: "The work load is, at first, reasonable and manageable. A consultant working for a client in a different time zone, for example, makes himself or herself available well beyond the actual working day. Competition fuels this blurring of the workweek: If I don't bend over backward for the client, goes the thinking, the competition will. But as employees become increasingly available after-hours, clients and colleagues make increasing demands on their time, making it harder to plan and regulate the workload. Perlow calls this process the 'cycle of responsiveness,' with marginal increases in demands on time generating increased expectations that snowball and result in what effectively feels like a 24/7 workweek."
"We're not using these tools as productively as we could," Perlow told CNN/Money. "There's a huge opportunity here, in small doable steps, to create much better communications."
And it takes everyone on the team to do it, because team-thinking caused the problem. "The problem when someone is connected 24/7 is that it sets a norm for other members of the team," Perlow told USA Today/Money. "They start to feel that to be responsive, they have to respond late at night to e-mails. It's not even urgent, but it just matriculates all this bad behavior."
Perlow gives some suggestions, according to USA Today, to end the constant connection. It basically comes down to agreeing about certain times off the phone. Then the team needs to stick to the unplugging times and support each other in that goal.
BlogCritics.org summarized Perlow's ideas this way: "Perlow devised a formula for success whose elements are PTO (Predictable Time Off) + Structured Dialogue = Better Work. This mode of operation is designed to eliminate bad intensity, wheel spin, unnecessary steps, lack of communication, and emergencies that emanate from poor planning. The author believes that team members should comprise just the right number of people with congruent goals and a clear focus."