Why it's so hard to unplugAccording to a 2009 study out of Ball State University, the majority of Americans spend at least eight and half hours a day in front of a television, computer screen, or mobile device, and sometimes all three at once.  WTF.  Actually, WTFF, where the first “F” stands for “Flying”.

Not intentionally, November is shaping up to be Legal Productivity’s unofficial “Unplug Awareness” month.  This weekend at MILOFest, a conference for Mac-using Law Offices, I’ll present, for the first time, my CLE session on living “Responsibly Connected”, one of my personal jihads.  ALA’s Legal Management will run my feature on this same topic towards the end of the month, and next week, Dustin Cole guest stars on our webinar series, discussing how to take control of your time and technology to lead a saner life.

In my readings and musings on why we’ve been so unbelievable sucked in to connected life that we risk life, limb, and personal relationships to plug in, three main reasons stick out.  Each one of them, on their own,  are powerful forces that override the decision-making process of we mere mortals.  But combine all three together, and we’re powerless to resist.

1) Economic Advantage

Market forces simply drive adoption. Through the Internet we can promote our brands, watch for customer comments, discover relevant news, keep up on the competition, and produce content to attract consumers to us.  Those not on board are falling behind fast.  In 2010, without a strong online presence, businesses are losing out on opportunities.  And the pace of electronic messaging combined with the short lifespan of content, makes this world a reckless, seemingly out of control place.

If we take our eyes off for a second, we may miss something important.

2) Allure of Shiny Objects

Trust me:  if you were a Lenape Indian living on Manhattan in the 1600’s, you would have gone for the shiny objects as well. We’re obsessed with the new and the shiny, and it’s deeply embedded in our economic system.  Every year, manufacturers promote computers, smartphones, cars, televisions, golf clubs, toys, shaving razors, air conditioners and almost any product from the high tech to the mundane as technically superior to the one that came before it.  We must therefore upgrade.

Some of the shiniest objects every created by man, namely, smartphones, are almost irresistible.  They’re pretty, cool, and literally predict the weather.  We’re grabbing them up in droves:  according to a Nielsen report from earlier this month, 41% of all people buying new phones buy a smartphone.

3) Social Interaction

We want to belong.  It’s just built into our biology.  Nowhere is this drive more evident than in the socially vulnerable world of teenage girls, who, according to the Pew Research center, average 100 text messages a day to their peers.  But social vulnerability and a desire to be part of a group is not isolated to teenagers.  When Facebook tipped over into the mainstream in 2008 with 100 million users, the floodgates opened to the decidedly unhip middle-aged folks and beyond.

When we’re offline, the nagging question becomes, “What am I missing?”  Disconnecting means you’re not at the party, not part of the “in crowd”.

So no wonder we seem powerless to disconnect.  Is it really a mystery that people text and drive when it’s much more dangerous than smoking? When our biology and our economic system guide us strongly in a direction, who are we to resist the current?

FREE CLE in FL:  Register for Dustin Cole’s webinar: Take Control of Your Time, Your Technology — And Your Profits The Keys to a Safer, More Profitable Practice and a Saner Life on Thursday, November 18th at 12PM EST.