Why financial advisers need to worry about technology addiction

Give yourself the gift of unplugging or risk opening yourself up to unhealthy habits

Aug 29, 2016 @ 10:04 am

By Sheryl Rowling

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When catching up on some reading, two random articles from very different publications caught my attention because they were 1) interesting in their own right and 2) even more interesting when viewed together.

The Wall Street Journal asked the question "Is technology making people less sociable?" Today people are using technology not only for work and entertainment, they are also using it for social purposes. Many avenues enable this form of communication: email, text, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and more. With the ability to connect with multitudes of people instantaneously, it would seem that technology is making us more social.

However, based on research by Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State Dominguez Hills, technology is distracting us from real relationships. The difference between live and virtual communication equates to the variance between "bonding and superficial bridging." As people spend more time checking their cell phones, responding to alerts and focusing on a computer screen, there is less opportunity and capacity for true friendships and connection.

The second article was from The Huffington Post titled "The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think." According to author Johann Heri, what we currently think about addiction is totally wrong. Our society tends to blame addiction on the drugs themselves or the victim: If the drug supply (or cigarette sales or liquor availability) is cut off, then we won't have addicts. Alternatively, if the addicts had the moral capacity to avoid drugs in the first place, their bodies would not have become addicted.

On his three-and-a-half year stream of interviews and research, Mr. Heri discovered something surprising: Many "addicts" could rid themselves of drugs permanently when their life circumstances changed. For example, about 20% of Vietnam soldiers became addicted to heroin during their service. Yet, 95% of these veterans simply stopped using once they returned to the U.S. Conversely, when the nicotine patch was introduced, many thought that it would cure cigarette addiction. Unfortunately, it clearly has not.

So, if the cause of addiction is not the drug, what is? Without going into all of the research, Mr. Heri believes it is an environment where the addict feels isolated and disconnected. People who feel connected to the world and others tend to not become addicts. And, those who are addicted have a much greater chance of giving up their drugs when their circumstances change and personal connections increase.

Viewing these two articles as one leads to an obvious warning for financial advisers and any professional spending more time with technology than people: Give yourself the gift of unplugging or risk opening yourself up to isolation and unhealthy habits — or worse.

Sheryl Rowling is head of rebalancing solutions at Morningstar Inc. and principal at Rowling & Associates. She considers herself a non-techie user of technology.

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