What Is the Impact of Technology on Productivity in the United States?
An entire industry creates products to make people more productive. There are lights that people can connect to their computers and put on their desks to say if they’re busy or available. Some automatically switch to different availability modes depending on how a person uses the computer. These aim to help users avoid interruptions that could disrupt their workflows.
Then, smartphones allow people to join conferences remotely, send emails from wherever they are, share screenshots with clients and much more. And these benefits are just a start.
But does technology always improve someone’s output? Let’s take a closer look at the impact of technology on productivity in the United States to find out.
Technology Used in Moderation Helps Productivity
If people want technology to positively affect their productivity, demonstrating moderate behavior could help. Otherwise, people may find that the tech tools they use become time sinks. For example, a 2018 Adobe study polled more than 1,000 white-collar workers in the U.S. and found that they spend an average of 3.1 hours checking their work email on a typical workday.
But those people could free up more time when on the clock by telling others they’ll only check email at a few scheduled periods throughout the day. They could also create a system that helps them determine what they must deal with now, and what can wait until later. Applying strategies like that should mean that they still stay on top of inbox management without devoting so many hours to it.
Some individuals may find that they need to use computer-based technology to work on projects that would take much longer otherwise. A 2017 study from McGraw-Hill found that 60% of college students said digital technologies improved their grades, suggesting that tech helped them become more productive while studying.
There are also specialized tech gadgets that help people with disabilities at work. Some of the inventions assist individuals by letting them control computers with head or eye movements or help visually impaired users recognize the contrast in objects. In cases like these, where technology enables a specific task, it can indeed raise productivity or facilitate things that are otherwise impossible. The trick is making sure that people don’t let technology distract them.
Many gadgets have features that users may engage with out of pure curiosity. Before long, they may find they have wasted too much time exploring the parts of a tech tool they do not need to use. If you want to improve your efficiency at work, consider using an app that tracks your average hourly productivity or blocks the websites that cause you to lose focus.
Technology Could Have Harmful Effects on Workers
The previous section shows that the impact of technology on productivity in the United States can be positive if people take steps to use it purposefully and not get off track. Even so, investing in technology doesn’t always bring the expected boosts to productivity. In the 1970s, researchers encountered the so-called “productivity paradox” when they expected a 3-4% boost in productivity from technology but only got a 1% rise instead.
Research shows that technology can hurt productivity even when people don’t actively use it. Researchers at Florida State University determined that a sound or vibration-based notification from a smartphone pulled people’s attention away from tasks as much as actively using phones to send texts or make calls. Although the notification sounds are usually short, they’re still more than enough to trigger lapses in concentration.
Americans also have a generally negative outlook when thinking about the potential outcomes of computers and robots taking over most of the work that humans do now. The Pew Research Center asked people to think about the possibility of that technology takeover in 2050. It revealed that 76% of Americans believe technology would worsen income inequality and 66% felt it was unlikely that the change would lead to better, well-paying jobs for humans.
Increased productivity is one of the advantages company leaders often cite after they invest in workplace robotics. They mention how the machines don’t need breaks and can work around the clock while producing the same high-quality output. Although some robots work alongside humans to supplement what they do, it’s easy to understand why some people may find it difficult to work if they’re worried about losing their jobs to technology.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are people who find technology so alluring that it leaves them unable to remain employed or have a meaningful life otherwise. Some of them suffer from a growing problem that some researchers call “technology addiction.” Cases can be so severe that people have 15-plus hours of screen time per day and require inpatient care to conquer the disorder.
Technology Can Be Unpredictable
You can probably empathize with the “technology is great when it works” sentiment. Even the most advanced technologies sometimes don’t work as expected, and troubleshooting the associated problems can take valuable time out of someone’s day.
Robert Half Technology polled U.S. office workers and found that they spend an average of 22 minutes per day dealing with tech glitches. That adds up to dozens of hours per year. As technology becomes more advanced, the errors that occur may become even more complicated to fix. Moreover, they might require highly specialized training or proprietary hardware or software to resolve.
Both Pros and Cons
This overview shows that the impact by technology on productivity in the United States is neither wholly positive or negative. It’s undoubtedly caused benefits, but there are adverse effects to contend with too.
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Also published on Medium.