Why you now obey your devices more than your mother

Liz Guthridge Posted by Liz Guthridge, Managing Director, Connect Consulting Group.

Liz Guthridge is a coach, consultant and facilitator who helps leaders turn their blue-sky ideas into greener-pasture actions. She uses applied neuroscience, behavior design and mindful communications. 


Why you now obey your devices more than your mother

How influential is your mother?  

Your mother—like most wise individuals—may instruct you to eat more vegetables, get more sleep and exercise, reduce your stress level, and do countless other things, but…

How often do you immediately follow her advice upon hearing it? And to what extent do you keep complying once she takes a break from telling you what to do?

Now contrast your mother’s guidance with the devices that you either wear or carry with you. How well do they grab your attention and compel you to act?

If you’re like many of us, you’ve decided your devices know best. Loaded with apps, these devices have earned your trust for their important and useful capabilities.

So when they beep, vibrate, illuminate and even woof at you, you interrupt what you’re doing, pay attention and obey them.

With the Mother’s Day holiday fast approaching on Sunday, May 8, the goal here is not to offend mothers and their contributions to their children and society.

Instead, the intention is to show how technology has become a major influencer in people’s lives, wielding power for mostly positive effects.

(And if you think influencers are growing in importance, it’s not your imagination. According to Ben Zimmer the American linguist, lexicographer, and language commentator for The Wall Street Journal, influencers have been around since Chaucer’s time. However, now with the rise and spread of social media, influencers are multiplying faster than ragweed plants producing pollen.)

Just consider these three technology examples:

  • A procurement app. One of my clients has just introduced a new technology platform to speed up the buying process. Several of the executives are now so hooked with the platform’s mobile app which allows them to approve requisitions with a click that the leaders respond almost immediately after getting notified. The procurement group is already recording faster cycle times and improved efficiencies. (However, there may be an unintended consequence of executives splitting their attention between tasks.)  
  • Exercise trackers. Two of my coaching clients have started walking every day now that they’ve invested in wearable technology. Both of these individuals are raving about the encouragement their new devices give them. The immediacy of the reminders and updates serves as both helpful and rewarding information to keep my clients moving. Their reactions mirror many others’ experience, including my own.    
  • The Puddle & Pile app. This specialty app is for humans looking for help to housetrain a puppy. (Yes, I fit this profile and the $1.99 purchase price has been well worth it.) The app helps you track when the puppy is likely to make a puddle or pile based on the dog’s age, weight, and eating and drinking schedule. When I hear the app’s “Woof!” I stop what I’m doing and take Marcel outside. As a result, ever since I discovered the app, he and I have enjoyed much greater training success. By contrast, when I was attempting to track his schedule on my own, I was lax about the time, forgetting that waiting an extra five minutes often wasn’t possible for a puppy, which led to a number of indoor accidents.

In the 2007 book, Mobile Persuasion: 20 Perspectives on the Future of Behavior Change, the main editor and contributor Dr. BJ Fogg predicted that mobile phones would soon become the most important platform for changing human behavior.

Back then, BJ forecasted that mobile phones would be the best tool to influence human behavior for these three reasons:

  1. Our love affair with the phone, especially the mobile version
  2. Our desire to carry our mobile phone with us all the time
  3. The mobile phone’s many potential capabilities.

Now, the capabilities have proliferated, not just on phones, but also on wristwatches and other wearable devices.

Even better, as time goes by, the device designers and users are becoming more knowledgeable and comfortable about the human side of technology.

The more skilled designers understand not just behavior design but also applied neuroscience. They realize the value of creating easy-to-use apps, especially those that nudge you at the most opportune moments, when you’re inclined to act. (For more on this topic, check out Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.)

As for users, they’ve clocked in more hours of experience with devices and apps. Plus, savvy users experiment with the settings to adjust them to fit their needs. That helps ensure crystal clear signals that prompt action in a timely manner, which helps change behavior and build new habits.

So whether it’s to take the dog out, dial into a conference call, approve expenditures, or anything else, you can take care of business or other needs or desires with relatively little fuss.

And even though you may not love technology, especially not to the degree that you love your mother and other family members, technology does influence you. It’s like having Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder chirping at you to do the right thing, as my colleague Georgia Patrick of The Communicators describes.

What do you think?