Meet The Techno-Sloths?

Are you — by any chance — reading these words on some sort of technological device?

You are?

Well, you, sir or madam, according to the opinions of a few thousand people who answered a recent Harris Poll, are a real lazy so-and-so.

That seems to be the prevailing opinion of the sizable majority of Americans who responded to a recent Harris Poll on technology’s effect on people’s general quality of life — who no doubt submitted their answers via carrier pigeon (JK; it was done online).

Here’s what the results, which were released earlier this week (Nov. 4), say.

Seventy percent of Americans believe that things like social networking sites, computers, mobile phones, and the Internet generally have become too distracting and are individually and collectively creating a lazy society.

On the flip side, a majority of people — according to the same survey — also believe that the wide world of technology is making them more social and creative.

Given that those are very positive attributes, perhaps the next Harris Poll should tackle the question of poll respondents’ abilities to be consistent.

Until then, what’s the takeaway, here: Is technology good or bad?

The leading headline statistic, along with several other overwhelmingly negative results, would seem to suggest a strong majority of respondents (from 2,200 Americans over the age of 18, polled between June 17-June 22 of this year) believe technology is having a negative impact on their daily lives including: creating a lazy society (73 percent); being too distracting (73 percent); corrupting interpersonal communications (69 percent); and having a negative impact on literacy (59 percent).

More or less in the same breath, however, Americans also had some pretty strong opinions on the positive effect technology has had on their lives.

Results were particularly upbeat in the areas of technology’s ability to help us learn new skills (63 percent), socialize and stay connected with friends (42 percent), and encouraging people to be more creative (68 percent).

While the poll results do appear, at a broad look, more than a touch contradictory (for instance, how can acquiring new skills also make people lazy, unless you’re dealing exclusively with some kind of auto-narcolepsy superpower?), the range itself of the answers reflects just how far and wide technology’s role in our lives spans. In fact, Americans’ opinions about technology vary significantly depending on which aspect of life — work or home — to which it’s being applied.

For example, 36 percent of respondents agreed that technology had a positive effect on their work productivity as well as their overall work life (35 percent). However, when asked to rate the same effect in their personal lives, results were split with 36 percent saying technology has a positive effect while a full quarter (23 percent) disagreed with this sentiment.

Digging even further into the data reveals a major generational gap, as well, because “get off my lawn” and all that.

Millennials believe, more than all other generations, that technology has had a negative effect on their productivity both at home — 32 percent of millennials versus 21 percent of Gen Xers, 20 percent of Baby Boomers and 14 percent of Matures — and at work — 14 percent versus 8 percent, 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of the other demographics.

Not surprisingly, millennials — all but born with smartphones in their hands and practically raised on social networks — were also the most likely to say that technology has had a positive impact on their social lives: 67 percent versus 53 percent of Gen Xers, 36 percent of Baby Boomers and 40 percent of Matures.

There are also divides across gender.

Women seem to feel more strongly that technology has become too distracting (76 percent versus 70 percent of men). The fairer sex also feels that technology has negatively impacted their safety and security (18 percent versus 13 percent of men). However, women say they use technology as an escape from their busy lives more than men (50 percent versus 43 percent).

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to believe that technology has had a positive impact on their ability to learn new skills (67 percent versus 60 percent of women). And in the areas of both at-home and work productivity, men far outpace women in finding technology’s impact to be positive, with 44 percent of bros and/or dudes believing it improves at-home productivity (versus 28 percent of women) and 43 percent saying it positively impacts their work productivity (versus 29 percent).

And what about Americans’ overall dependency on technology: How willing and able are they to unplug?

According to the Harris Poll, not very.

When asked how long they could go without technology, a majority of people indicated they could make it a week or less without Internet access (67 percent), their computer/laptop (60 percent), or a mobile device (59 percent). (Those people might be called “liars,” or perhaps “Luddite-curious.”) And more than 2 in 10 went so far as to state they simply could not live without the aforementioned technologies (27 percent, 22 percent, and 26 percent, respectively).

The Harris Poll seems to have a sense of humor, offering “a dash of perspective” (as they put it) by noting that about 4 in 10 of the same survey respondents said they could only make it a week or less (or not at all) without caffeine (42 percent) or sex (39 percent), with roughly 2 in 10 saying they could not live without them, period (20 percent and 18 percent, respectively).

We’ll refrain from commenting on that, other than with a general “People are interesting!”

Suffice it to say that, whether or not consumers are technology sloths, or are using technology precisely the way in which it was intended may — like beauty — be in the eye of the beholder.

One person’s definition of laziness – the ability to use an app to hire someone to go grocery shop – may be another’s definition of productivity – the ability to use an app to hire someone to do grocery shopping means more time with the kids at home. Spending 30 minutes on Facebook catching up with old friends who otherwise wouldn’t be catch-uppable because they live in another state or they had fallen off the radar may not be lazy, but a useful way to stay in touch.

Either way, there’s no denying that technology has invaded every aspect of a consumer’s life; what they choose to do with the abilities it brings (play Candy Crush, cure cancer, or somewhere in between) is entirely up to them.


New PYMNTS Report: Preventing Financial Crimes Playbook – July 2020 

Call it the great tug-of-war. Fraudsters are teaming up to form elaborate rings that work in sync to launch account takeovers. Chris Tremont, EVP at Radius Bank, tells PYMNTS that financial institutions (FIs) can beat such highly organized fraudsters at their own game. In the July 2020 Preventing Financial Crimes Playbook, Tremont lays out how.