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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 15:31 GMT
The rise of technology addiction
Three people using Blackberry mobile device
The Blackberry mobile device allows users to send e-mails
The seemingly exponential growth of portable technology has sparked fears that people are becoming addicted or swamped by gadgets and their uses.

One major consequence of this phenomenon is that the line between work and private life is much more blurred, now that e-mail and phones provide a 24-hour link between employers and staff.

Experts believe that even the decision-making process of the average person can be adversely affected.

However, others think that the bombardment of various communications can enhance the brain's ability to process information.

Addiction symptoms

Nada Kakabadse, a Professor at the Northampton Business School, said: "Your judgement is impaired. Equally your decision making processes are impaired.

"It's like losing your spatial judgement, so instead of walking through the door you walk into it. You're more prone to have a car accident if you drive."

Prof Kakabadse added: "It's addiction to portable technology, which you take with you practically to bed, the cinema, to the theatre, to a dinner party. The symptoms are, like with any other addiction, that people spend more time using their technology than spending it in socialising or in family time."

The growing importance of the issue was highlighted at a gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, for the LIFT 07 technology conference.

One of the conclusions reached by experts was that "tech overload" is the price people have to pay for always-on communication, where the line between work and play has become blurred.

I really think it is the responsibility of the individual to prioritise
Professor Nada Kakabadse, Northampton Business School

In fact, there is even some evidence that being bombarded with information from all directions is actually beneficial.

Professor Fred Mast, of the University of Lausanne, said: "I think that we can become overloaded. It depends on the situation, but I think we are underestimating the brain's capacity to adapt to new challenges.

"Studies have been done showing that people can actually enhance their cognitive abilities, which helps them to process more information at the same time. And their performance even transfers to other tasks."

Experts have also noted how different types of technology have developed their own etiquette.

Email screen
E-mail tends to be a more formal type of communication

For instance, an e-mail can wait two days to be answered but a text message demands an almost immediate reply.

Stefana Broadbent from Swisscom said: "E-mail is considered the most formal. At the other end of the spectrum SMS is the most personal of all.

"That's where we find all those little exchanges, little endearments, what we call grooming, which is sending: 'I think about you. How did it go? How did you sleep?'

He added: "That is actually given by the number of characters. With such few characters, you have to have a lot of mutual understanding and mutual knowledge."

Prof Kakabadse added that prioritising was a vital way to prevent communication overload.

She said: "I really think it is the responsibility of the individual to prioritise. Even if an employee pushes the boundaries, do discuss with the employee in a constructive way how we can do things better without being overloaded."

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