Are You An IDIOT?

It's not what you think. Read on to find out if you are one—and what to do about it. (Hint: Don't text from the bathroom.)

We live in a world where titles and labels play a major role in helping us to identify who we're interacting with and to understand where we sit in relation to others. When my son was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADD), I realized I had a good dose of it, too. I dislike the label ADD with a passion since it contains two negatives indicating we have a deficit and a disorder. It assumes that we choose to be disorderly because of this deficit, which can be pretty depressing if you're sensitive to labels. But, as I researched the condition, I realized that some of the most creative and constructive people through history have had ADD or attention–deficit/hyperactivity disorder, aka ADHD (that term has hyper thrown in for good measure), like Einstein, Picasso, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Michael Jordan, and Spielberg, just to name a few. We are in good company.

Years back when we were deciding how we'd build our brand, business titles were an important indicator of our role in the company. I wanted my teams to reflect function and a sense of British humor, so my professional title became the Guvner, as opposed to CEO. It’s supposed to indicate authority with a healthy dose of playfulness. Whomever I meet almost always calls me the Guvner, and often times it’s with a smile. It's memorable and cuts through the formalities.

Professionally, I like to think I'm part cultural voyeur mixed with a splash of aspiring behavioral scientist, business therapist, executive coach, innovative design thinker, and wannabe motivational speaker. But when reality kicks in, I realize I have a massively inflated, completely misinformed view of my professional position in life. However, I am skilled at framing the challenge, spotting the opportunity, and saying what everyone else is thinking (and afraid to say) to solve big problems using a healthy dose of collaborative common sense. While I know I'm late to the game commenting on this one, it's a subject we're going to be hearing even more about and deserves a new, memorable label.

With the excessive amount of traveling I do over the course of the year, I spend a majority of my time in airports, on planes, and in public meeting spaces where I often find myself observing people and their behaviors. As I go about my business, I'm both intrigued and disturbed by people’s (and my own) dependence on digital devices.

Do you have Impulsive Digital Isolationist Obsessive Tendencies?
It seems wherever you go, people are consumed with their smartphone and all it has to offer, including texting, talking, gaming, Instagraming, tweeting, Facebooking, and more. Generally, there is a look of urgency, importance, and disconnection from the immediate world around the user. People talk into their phones or into the air with little regard for others around the user. Next time you're in a restaurant, look at how many couples and families spend more time looking at their phones than each other.

Next time you're in a meeting, count how many times people check, text, or type on their phones rather than pay attention. When you are stopped at a light, look over to the other lane and you'll likely see people texting or talking on their phones. The term for the fear of, and obsession with, losing and/or being without a smartphone is Nomophobia (No-mobile-phobia), which was coined by U.K. researchers in 2008. This growing dependency and addiction to smartphones is very similar to substance addiction or other compulsive behaviors; and according to a Baylor University study in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, it revealed that impulsivity and materialism are key drivers of mobile phone and instant messaging usage.

We are becoming a society of IDIOTs.
Couples would rather text each other than talk to each other, people avoid eye-to-eye contact, and much of the younger generation can’t hold a conversation longer than a few minutes without reaching for the phone.

It's clear from all of this that we're becoming a society of IDIOTs (Impulsive Digital Isolationist Obsessive Tendencies) distracted by technology and disconnected from our human relationships. We are fooling ourselves that impulsive and superficial digital connections are better than in-person conversations and connections.

What the Internet is doing to our brains and our behavior
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain, by Nicholas Carr describes the same phenomenon. According to Carr, the Internet is a system that might as well have been designed to foster distractedness. When you read a book there’s nothing there but the physical pages to dive into without distractions. Reading on the Internet is a different matter. He describes how the brain is constantly switching tasks with all the distractions being so prevalent. My newfound storytelling heroes at Epipheo put this superb video together to make the same point.

Warning Signs that you are becoming an IDIOT?
As you go about your day, take note of your behavior, dependency, and compulsive usage of your smartphone. If you've developed more than one of the following behaviors, there's a good chance you are, or you're becoming an IDIOT.

Do you look at your emails from your phone in bed?
Do you take your phone to the bathroom?
Do you DWT (Drive While Texting)?
Do you jump between email, the news, project documents, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter?
Do you eat dinner with your family with your phone in your hand?
Do you compulsively check to see if you have new messages and LIKES on your latest post?
Do you post everything you do, every moment of the day?
Do you go out for dinner and midway through take photos of what you're eating and post them immediately?
Do you go out for dinner and spend more time looking at your phone than your date?
Do you sit in a meeting and check your phone every few minutes?

Here are 5 simple tips to avoid being an IDIOT some of the time:
1.Find at least an hour in the day and turn off your phone.
2.Unplug for at least one day on the weekend.
3.If you're in a meeting, turn your phone off.
4.If you're at dinner with others, turn your phone off.
5.Do not text while you're driving.

[Driver: Arp2 via Shutterstock]

Add New Comment


  • airmanchairman

    § I am NOT an IDIOT...

    § I do read email in bed and the bathroom, but not while driving.
    § Email, news & Twitter will invariably do that, provide links to more info from the summary provided.
    § That's normal.
    § If I feel the need, yes, right by my dinner plate, not in my hand...
    § Blogs allow you to set notifications for responses to your posts, so duh, I just wait for the beep...
    § I can go for days without texting or posting, IF I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY...
    § I'll only post pictures of a sensational meal, which is quite rare. Last time December, Newport, Wales.
    § I'll never disrespect a date like that, but I fear the reverse may occur from what I see around me.
    § Sometimes I have my phone discreetly on vibrate, on my person, not on the meeting table.

    My phones and PC's are always on, except during extensive system administration and maintenance, then they get some downtime.

  • Renee Fishman

    This is a great article. As I was reading, I had to resist the urge to click on the links before finishing. I wonder how many readers never finished because they clicked the link to learn more about Carr's book, or how reading on the Internet is different, or to watch the Epipheo video. While it is true that technology is just a tool, it is a tool that facilitates the easy action on distraction impulses. I'm glad I stuck with this one through the end. Now I'll go back to explore the links!

  • coffeedrinker88

    I like the irony in the paragraphing discussing distractions... then distractingly links to a video about the subject.

  • Cliffwilliams

    You used the word “behaviors.” The better word for this is “habits.” Your points are valid. 

  • GettingClosure

    This article was legit, AIMEE W. No need to use defense-based reverse sexism to attack the guy. This could have been written just as easily by a women. I'm bitting my tongue from lashing out. Whew, done. Funny how the women are on a rampage today cause it's father's day. I digress, that was a cheap shot at humor and I take it back. I did it for the laugh, in playful chiding we trust. No offense truly meant.
    On another note I have IDIOTs because I often make poor deals with my clients. So in those cases when I'm lacking leverage I'm checking my phone constantly for their replies which never seem to arrive on time. Which wastes my time immensely and causes me to lose sleep. Now that's an article you should write next.

  • aimee w

    Just reading FastCo's blurb of this article on FB screamed "I was written by a middle-aged white man who thinks he knows everything. And also seems to believe that his views on how people should engage, are Right."

    Sadly, I was not completely wrong.

    Which is a pity, as I generally like Parr's stuff. But he's not a psychiatrist, and should refrain from diagnoses, however much he may like his clever initialism.

    I'd like to point out - previous to phones, people also had plenty of shallow, impulsive etc relationships. Additionally, I've personally found that people look to their phones when the conversation or company just aren't that interesting - otherwise, of course they engage.

    And, of course, many people are keeping in contact with friends all over the world when they're checking their phones. Not all of us are lucky enough that the people nearest to us are our closest. Nor, necessarily, should they be.

    It's all well and good to quote Carr's book, but there are plenty of other resources which don't agree with him at all. And, certainly, the way we deal with information (and, hell, even _some_ kinds of relationships) may be changing, but change != bad. We really have to get over the impulse to describe new ways of behaving as implicitly bad because they're not like the old ones.

    Further to that - I'd like to see people cease blaming tech for humanity. That is to say: tech is a _tool_. It can't make tendencies that weren't there, or kill others - perhaps it can heighten or lessen some, but that's about it. People are, and will continue to be, people. Worried about how we treat each other? Rail against how we teach our children to think about other people, about the implicit disrespect which is a mainstay in most civilisations. Don't moan about tech...

    The thing is, much as I don't agree with his final steps, they're not too bad. It's the rest of the article, which tone is, well, condescending, I guess. If nothing else? I'm no idiot, much as he describes me as an IDIOT.

  • Shawn

    Thanks for your passionate commentary, Aimee. I definitely wasn't aiming for that screaming middle-aged white man know-it-all tone. I thought my self-deprecating admission of having a massively inflated, completely misinformed view of my professional position in life got me squarely off that hook. Anyway, my hope was to illustrate the power of labels in society coupled with my observations about obsessive human behaviors that happen to be a result of technology usage. I'd like to humbly suggest that while technology is a tool that accelerates and enables existing human behaviors, it can also create and fuel new ones that weren't there prior to, and they are not all utopian. As a parting Sunday night comment, we've obviously both taken the time to engage in the technology that enables us to access blurbs like this, and for that I am extremely grateful. And for what it's worth, I wrote my blurb as much for me to take notice of (because I have IDIOTs) as it is for anyone else reading it. Thanks again and have a great week ahead. 

  • aimee w

     Awesome response, thanks, Shawn :)

    Have a great weekend yourself!


    It may be worth clarifying that I didn't mean your blurb for your article, but, as mentioned, the blurb used by FastCo on their FB feed to talk about your article.

  • Dustin Mann

    HMMM....I'm gonna say he comes off as a lot less of a know it all than you do. You are quite probably the exact type of person who's feathers he meant to ruffle, but I don't see that as condescending. Controversial, maybe.

  • sam

    another symptom

    - are you thinking about sharing this article with people on your social media even as you are reading it?