More Than 7 in 10 Americans Think Technology has Become Too Distracting and is Creating a Lazy Society

However, strong majorities also believe it encourages people to be creative and has improved the overall quality of their lives

05:00 AM EST Nov 4, 2015 Rating
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More Than 7 in 10 Americans Think Technology has Become Too Distracting and is Creating a Lazy Society

NEW YORK, N.Y. – As technology continues to seep into seemingly every aspect of everyday life – and with familiarity so often breeding contempt – it should come as no surprise that it rubs some Americans the wrong way. Many adults remain divided on how technology impacts the way we live our lives. On the one hand, strong majorities believe that technology has improved the overall quality of their lives (71%) and encourages people to be more creative (68%). But at the same time, strong majorities also believe technology is creating a lazy society (73%), has become too distracting (73%), is corrupting interpersonal communications (69%), and is having a negative impact on literacy (59%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,220 adults surveyed online between June 17 and 22, 2015.

On an encouraging note, a majority of Americans say technology has had a positive effect on their ability to learn new skills (63%). Over four in ten also say technology has a positive effect on:

A plurality says the same of its effect on their work productivity (36%) and their work life (35%).

While a plurality (36%) believes technology has a positive effect on their productivity at home, it’s worth noting that nearly one quarter (23%) disagree with this sentiment.

Generational gaps

It’s well known that different generations hold differing opinions when looking at any aspect of technology – be it usage, adoption, or general attitudes. Knowing that Millennials are traditionally the most attuned to their tech devices, it comes as no surprise that this group is more likely to say technology has had a positive effect on nearly all aspects tested, including:

However, there is a key exception – their productivity. Millennials are more likely than all other generations to say technology has had a negative effect on their productivity both at home (32% vs. 21% Gen Xers, 20% Baby Boomers & 14% Matures) and at work (14% vs. 8%, 3% & 2%).

While Millennials may be the most likely group to say technology positively affects their relationships and the most likely to say it enhances their social life (67% vs. 53% Gen Xers, 36% Baby Boomers & 40% Matures), their family and friends might feel differently. Millennials also happen to be more likely than any other generation to say their friends/family think they use technology too much (46% vs. 27% Gen Xers, 13% Baby Boomers & 11% Matures).

Gender divides

Men and women offer some differing opinions on how technology affects their lives as well.

Meanwhile, men are more likely than women to see the positive aspects.

A majority of men are more likely to believe technology has a positive impact on several functional aspects of their lives.

How willing are Americans to unplug?

Despite many concerns, it’s clear Americans still have a hard time unplugging. When faced with a list of technological devices and general life staples and asked how long they could live without each, majorities of Americans indicate that they could make it a week or less without Internet access (67%), a computer/laptop (60%), mobile phone (59%), or television (55%), with over two in ten going so far as to state that they simply could not live without them (27%, 22%, 26% and 21%, respectively).

Just to add a dash of perspective, about four in ten said they could only make it a week or less (or not at all) without caffeine (42%) or sex (39%), with roughly two in ten saying they could not live without them – period (20% and 18%, respectively).

So what can Americans live without? Just over one quarter (26%) say they could live without sex altogether, while just 23% say the same of their computers and 18% say the same about Internet access. In other words, more Americans say they can live without sex than say they can live without the Internet or their computer!

 

TABLE 1a

OVERALL IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY ON EVERYDAY LIFE

Grid Summary

“Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements.”

Base: U.S. adults

 

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Not at all sure

Not applicable

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Technology is creating a lazy society

73

39

34

20

12

8

5

1

Technology has become too distracting

73

35

39

22

14

8

3

2

Technology has improved the overall quality of my life

71

31

39

21

14

7

7

2

Technology is corrupting interpersonal communications

69

34

34

23

13

10

6

2

Technology encourages people to be more creative

68

27

40

22

16

6

9

1

Technology gets upgraded/updated too quickly

62

30

32

31

21

10

6

1

Technology is having a negative impact on literacy

59

28

31

30

17

13

9

2

Technology enhances my social life

51

18

33

40

23

17

5

4

I use technology as an escape from my busy life

47

17

29

44

23

21

4

5

My friends/family think I use technology too frequently

27

10

17

61

27

34

7

5

My employer expects me to always be “on call” or online because technology makes it possible

27

11

16

34

12

22

3

36

1My employer expects me to always be “on call” or online because technology makes it possible [1among applicable respondents]

42

18

24

54

19

34

5

--

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

-- indicates 0% response

**Caution – small base (n<100). Results should be interpreted as qualitative, or directional, in nature. 

 


TABLE 1b

OVERALL IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY ON EVERYDAY LIFE

Summary of “Agree” (NET) – By Generation & Gender

“Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements.”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2015 Total

2013 Total

2012 Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-35) 

Gen Xers (36-50) 

Baby Boomers (51-69) 

Matures (70+) 

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Technology is creating a lazy society

73

76

75

72

73

77

67

73

74

Technology has become too distracting

73

69

65

75

73

74

66

70

76

Technology has improved the overall quality of my life

71

71

78

73

69

72

63

73

69

Technology is corrupting interpersonal communications

69

68

n/a

63

70

75

65

69

69

Technology encourages people to be more creative

68

65

n/a

73

64

65

66

65

70

Technology gets upgraded/updated too quickly

62

n/a

n/a

60

64

64

61

57

67

Technology is having a negative impact on literacy

59

n/a

n/a

56

59

62

57

57

61

Technology enhances my social life

51

52

56

67

53

36

40

49

53

I use technology as an escape from my busy life

47

47

53

61

55

34

22

43

50

My friends/family think I use technology too frequently

27

25

30

46

27

13

11

27

27

My employer expects me to always be “on call” or online because technology makes it possible

27

25

n/a

44

27

17

6

31

23

n/a – indicates the statement was not tested in the given year


TABLE 2a

POSITIVE/NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY ON MY LIFE

Grid Summary

“How do you think technology is affecting the following aspects of your life?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

Positive effect (NET)

Very positive effect

Somewhat positive effect

No effect at all

Negative effect (NET)

Somewhat negative effect

Very negative effect

Not applicable

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

My ability to learn new skills

63

26

37

29

4

3

1

4

Relationships with friends

46

14

32

42

8

6

2

4

My ability to live life the way I want to

45

16

29

45

7

6

1

4

My happiness

43

13

30

46

7

6

2

4

My social life

42

12

30

45

8

7

2

4

My safety and security

39

13

26

42

16

13

3

3

Relationships with my family

37

11

26

47

11

10

2

4

My work productivity

36

15

21

30

8

6

1

26

My productivity at home

36

12

23

37

23

20

3

4

My work life

35

15

20

32

4

3

1

29

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 2b

POSITIVE/NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY ON MY LIFE

Summary of “Positive Effect” (NET) – By Generation & Gender

“How do you think technology is affecting the following aspects of your life?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2015  Total

2013 Total

2012 Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-35) 

Gen Xers (36-50) 

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

My ability to learn new skills

63

n/a

n/a

72

59

60

56

67

60

Relationships with friends

46

47

50

59

46

36

34

45

46

My ability to live life the way I want to

45

42

n/a

53

43

39

40

50

40

My happiness

43

41

n/a

52

42

37

38

46

41

My social life

42

41

43

57

42

30

29

40

43

My safety and security

39

36

42

43

39

36

37

45

34

Relationships with my family

37

39

43

46

36

33

27

39

36

My work productivity

36

34

42

44

41

30

18

43

29

My productivity at home

36

34

39

39

37

33

32

44

28

My work life

35

34

41

47

43

24

14

42

29

n/a – indicates the statement was not tested in the given year

 


TABLE 2c

POSITIVE/NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY ON MY LIFE

Summary of “Negative Effect” (NET) – By Generation & Gender

“How do you think technology is affecting the following aspects of your life?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2015 Total

2013 Total

2012 Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-35)

Gen Xers (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

My productivity at home

23

23

23

32

21

20

14

17

30

My safety and security

16

20

15

20

15

13

12

13

18

Relationships with my family

11

11

10

13

14

8

10

11

12

My social life

8

8

8

12

7

7

6

8

9

Relationships with friends

8

8

7

10

7

7

9

8

9

My work productivity

8

9

10

14

8

3

2

6

9

My happiness

7

8

n/a

11

9

5

2

7

8

My ability to live life the way I want to

7

8

n/a

10

6

5

6

6

8

My work life

4

7

7

7

4

2

1

4

4

My ability to learn new skills

4

n/a

n/a

5

5

2

4

3

5

n/a – indicates the statement was not tested in the given year

 


 

TABLE 3a

HOW LONG COULD LIVE WITHOUT SPECIFIC THINGS

Grid Summary

“How long could you live without each of the following?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

I could live without it

I could live without it for a few weeks

I could live without it for a week or less (NET)

I could live without it for a week

I could live without it for a few days

I could not live without it

Not applicable

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Video games

66

10

14

3

6

5

10

Social networking sites

58

12

25

7

11

7

5

Navigation system

55

11

24

5

9

10

11

eReader

61

6

12

4

4

4

22

Tablet computer

49

9

26

6

11

8

16

Caffeine

47

8

42

5

16

20

4

Sex

26

24

39

9

12

18

11

Television

28

16

55

11

23

21

2

Computer/Laptop

23

15

60

13

26

22

2

Mobile phone

28

10

59

11

21

26

3

Internet access

18

14

67

11

29

27

1

Car

15

8

73

10

23

40

4

Spouse/significant other

15

6

61

5

10

46

19

Food

3

2

93

4

17

73

2

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 3b

HOW LONG COULD LIVE WITHOUT SPECIFIC THINGS

Summary of “I could live without it” – By Generation & Gender

“How long could you live without each of the following?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2015  Total

2013 Total

2012 Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-35)

Gen Xers (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Video games

66

n/a

n/a

56

67

73

72

64

68

eReader

61

52

54

61

61

62

52

64

58

Social networking sites

58

55

57

46

60

65

66

64

52

Navigation system

55

54

55

49

59

59

51

59

51

Tablet computer

49

46

49

49

45

50

54

51

47

Caffeine

47

n/a

n/a

48

45

47

47

51

43

Mobile phone

28

28

29

15

26

39

37

31

25

Television

28

26

28

36

32

20

15

30

25

Sex

26

25

26

20

26

31

32

20

32

Computer/Laptop

23

20

21

27

24

20

16

23

22

Internet access

18

17

19

16

19

17

17

21

15

Car

15

15

13

20

16

13

7

19

13

Spouse/significant other

15

16

18

13

18

14

13

15

14

Food

3

5

5

3

4

2

5

4

3

n/a – indicates the statement was not tested in the given year

  

TABLE 3c

HOW LONG COULD LIVE WITHOUT SPECIFIC THINGS

Summary of “I could NOT live without it” – By Generation & Gender

“How long could you live without each of the following?”

Base: U.S. adults

 

2015 Total

2013 Total

2012 Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-35)

Gen Xers (36-50)

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Matures (70+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Food

73

73

68

72

76

74

67

69

77

Spouse/significant other

46

45

41

44

44

50

44

45

47

Car

40

42

40

38

38

39

50

36

43

Internet access

27

28

26

32

27

21

25

26

27

Mobile phone

26

26

23

36

29

18

15

23

30

Computer/Laptop

22

24

24

22

20

22

23

23

20

Television

21

23

20

16

22

23

26

19

23

Caffeine

20

n/a

n/a

19

23

22

15

16

25

Sex

18

20

19

22

23

15

6

22

15

Navigation system

10

8

7

15

7

8

5

11

9

Tablet computer

8

6

5

13

9

5

4

10

7

Social networking sites

7

7

6

12

4

4

4

7

6

Video games

5

n/a

n/a

9

4

2

2

7

3

eReader

4

5

4

5

2

3

6

4

4

n/a – indicates the statement was not tested in the given year

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between June 17 and 22, 2015 among 2,220 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #68, November 4, 2015

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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