[Originally posted on the Huffington Post.]
This is the 13th in a series of 14 posts expanding on Salzman’s forecasts for 2013 in her annual trends report, a program of global communications group Havas Worldwide. This year’s book, What’s Next? What to Expect in 2013, was published on 12/12/12 and is available at 120MBooks.com. Salzman is CEO of Havas PR North America and an internationally respected trendspotter.
Keen trend watchers notice the way certain words rise up out of billions of conversations, evoking essential thoughts and feelings about the zeitgeist in a syllable or two. Current examples are network, communication, community, well-being, awesome, hardwired and mobile; they’re everywhere, all-purpose Swiss army knife words that defy simple definitions.
This certainly applies to fatigue. Not so long ago, the only times it cropped up in conversation were in relation to air crashes (metal fatigue) and military personnel (battle fatigue). Then in the late 1980s, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with “chronic fatigue syndrome” to identify a sort of deep, enduring weariness that still has no single known medical cause.
Dismissively dubbed Yuppie Flu initially, the term “chronic fatigue” caught on, hitting popular culture just in time for the rise of the Internet, cellphones and megamultichannel TV. Fatigue turned out to be the perfect word for what many people were beginning to feel after a few years of hyperconnectivity, information overload and always-on living. It’s what we feel when we’re constantly being exposed—or exposing ourselves—to the same demands on our energy and attention. No wonder fatigue is now beyond trendy as a catch-all meme that fits so many situations.
Take your conscience. Most people want to do the right thing, be good citizens and feel good about themselves; worthy causes call on the good conscience of other people to pitch in and help. Sadly, there’s a whole world of infinite need out there: sad eyes pleading with you, smart headlines that penetrate your defenses, poor people amid scenes of devastation. Just learning about a small selection of nonprofits and charities, let alone actually contributing, can take a lot of time and effort. For ordinary people who don’t have the time and money of billionaire philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the pulls on our heartstrings can feel like a never-ending reminder that we should be doing something for homeless people, famine, HIV orphans, natural disasters, arts foundations, and thousands of other good works near and far. It can be wearing. Nonprofits dealing with tight budgets are facing donor fatigue among financial backers and compassion fatigue among care workers.
This is especially true for all things green. After a spike in concern for the environment in the early 2000s, there has been a steady decline in consumer and voter interest. In fact, the 2012 U.S. presidential debates were the first since 1988 not to mention climate issues. Chalk a lot of it up to green fatigue—people tiring of exhortations to do the right thing and of greenwashed sales pitches. Those who are open to changing their behavior have already done it, while the rest aren’t interested in changing; either way, many “be greener” messages are resented or ignored.
There’s even evidence of a backlash. Despite high gasoline prices, Ford says sales of its popular Explorer SUV are up 18 percent. Many of us are tuning out products touting their greenness (and which products aren’t?) as we still struggle to pay our bills and question the value of organic kale over the much cheaper leafy stuff in our local supermarket. (The Stanford University study showing that organic produce isn’t more healthful than conventional produce didn’t help that cause.)
Decision and Ego Fatigue
In the eight years since psychologist Barry Schwartz published The Paradox of Choice, we’ve come to understand how a full-on consumer lifestyle can be exhausting. It turns out that making decisions is really tiring in ways that can be measured. Decision fatigue is not a fad complaint dreamed up by spoiled people; it’s what happens when we have to keep weighing alternatives and making decisions. It even afflicts judges tasked with deciding whether to grant parole.
It’s rife in the workplace. A study of 29,000 workers published by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found 38 percent of them experienced “low levels of energy, poor sleep or a feeling of fatigue” during the previous two weeks.
But decision fatigue affects a lot more of life than discharging responsibilities at work or deciding which mobile subscription to choose in private life. A growing body of smart psychology experiments has explored how making decisions saps the same mental energy that’s needed to exercise self-control. Among the many sobering findings, they show that resisting temptation even for just a few minutes is tiring; resisting it all day, every day, is exhausting. It takes a lot of willpower—or smart habits—to conserve energy and avoid what’s now known as ego depletion or ego fatigue.
It’s a serious problem for anybody who has addiction issues. Trouble is, addiction is no longer just an issue for people with a weakness for drink, drugs, tobacco or sex. Now most people with an Internet connection and virtually anybody with a mobile device have personal experience with addiction. Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, who wrote The Willpower Instinct, is one of many mental health specialists warning that technology addiction is a problem with serious consequences.
All this fatigue is mentally and emotionally draining, but it might also have deeper physical effects. Adrenal fatigue is all the rage among alternative health practitioners, who attribute it to overworked adrenal glands. Medical professionals say it’s not a real medical condition. Either way, it’s a response to the stresses and strains of modern living. And either way, watch for the relentless spread of fatigue—and tips to combat it.
[photo: creativecommons.org/Aaron Jacobs]
In the U.S., teens’ abuse of prescription pain medication has grown—one in eight has misused painkillers, which are now responsible for more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined. Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s supply of pain meds, while across the pond an estimated 1.5 million Brits are addicted to prescription drugs. The issue is tragic for our youngest generation, too: The number of babies born addicted to pain pills is up, and the rate of child deaths by poisoning has risen by 80 percent in the last decade (prescription drugs are responsible for 57 percent of the increase). The White House is urging drugmakers to do more to help pay for public service announcements about prescription painkiller abuse; in India, government officials are even scrutinizing the printed inserts for prescription painkillers. With 47 percent of Americans reporting that they’re suffering from chronic pain, it’s crucial to take a hard look at the issue. Specialists say that pain is mostly in our heads: Anxiety and negative expectations worsen it, and distraction works as a powerful pain reducer. Health and wellness marketers might be feeling some pain right about now, too; a brainstorm on a sensitive yet powerful creative campaign could be just the distraction they need.
The brains of teens who play video games for nine hours a week or more contain more gray matter at the core, says a new European study. The portion of the brain being examined has been connected with addiction in prior research, as it affects the interplay of emotions and behavior, but this was the first study to correlate video gaming with brain structure changes. Scientists said they couldn’t tell, though, whether the teens’ brains had changed from so much time spent gaming or if they’d formed their habits with that part of their brains already enlarged. Nevertheless, the study offers an interesting look at the science of addiction. Considering that approximately 91 percent of children play video games now, it’s something we all need to know more about. Of course, the number of players is going up across the board: A Chinese video game company reports a 40 percent increase in online gaming in the third quarter, while social gaming in the U.S. and U.K. has increased by 71 percent in the past 18 months. To that, we can only say: Game on.
Originally posted on the Holmes Report.
When watching “Mad Men,” it’s hard not to revel in the decadent splendor of indulgence, of three-martini lunches and an endless stream of smoke rings. At the same time, it’s hard to relate to the idea of smoking in an airplane or even a house, or lighting up after dinner at the 21 Club while inking a deal—at the table, not outside on West 52nd, that is.
But here we are.
It’s 2011 and we are fat-free and smoke-free, and a business lunch has become just that—lunch, with a Diet Coke chaser. Though many yearn for the fun times, the U.S. government, marketing campaigns such as “Truth,” films such as The Insider and horrible cancer-related deaths of loved ones that many of us have witnessed have shown us the harm cigarettes can do.
Did we ever think we’d have the same worries about talking on the phone? Is connectivity the new killer? I’ve been forecasting this day for some time. Recent reports from the World Health Organization warn of the dangers of a lifetime of talking on cell phones—with serious illnesses like brain cancer as byproducts of our newest addiction. And are men microwaving their fertility when they stash their phone in their front pants pocket? Suddenly, “dead zone” has a new meaning.
I can’t help but wonder how the big brands will make it, as cell phones become the new carcinogen du jour. Will Apple or Nokia or Motorola create logo- or art-emblazoned helmets to protect our skulls from bad waves? Will the big guns do their own studies? (Many organizations are rebutting the WHO study by saying it’s inconclusive and cell phones are only “possibly carcinogenic” to humans.) Or create headsets that alleviate the anxiety? Or will some indie company return us all to old-school landlines? (That I doubt.)
As the debates rage and marketers of telecom products scramble to refute the claims, the real sticking point for all us “phonies” is that smoking, though addictive, is optional. Diet Coke is optional. Carbs and trans fats are optional. But our phones? It’s sort of beyond addiction, really. These little smart guys are instrumental to our survival, and as someone who is a brain surgery survivor and brain-health-obsessed, I’m concerned about how I’ll kick this habit. And with two phones, usually one in each ear, I’m doubly worried.
Maybe we need to look to our millennial friends, who are probably the healthiest of all—in addition to their need for a work-life balance, many of this young, fully digital set don’t use phones for voice calls. They simply text, status update, check in and tweet. In fact, voice activity decreased 14 percent among teens from Q2 2009 to Q2 2010; they averaged just 646 minutes talking on the phone per month, the lowest of any group other than those 55 and over, according to a 2010 Nielsen report.
Regardless of who is doing the calling (or not doing it), we’ve got much to think about as cell phones become the new cigarettes. Though can we really afford to quit them just yet, dropped calls and all? Sigh. Our bodies, our phones. Perhaps all this connectivity really does have a price.
Photo credit: iStockphoto