We need less face-to-interface interactions, not more

A new gadget caught my attention the other day, Logitech’s Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard (K480). It was the image on the box that made me stop and look: a tablet-sized full wireless keyboard with a little iPhone nestled in the cradle displaying a texting app. “Switch typing between your computer, phone, and tablet,” the copy on the box said. In the background, a modern desktop computer is pictured, along with a tablet standing next to it.

Is this what we’ve become? Are most of us assumed to be computer-using, tablet-owning, smartphone holders walking through what Logitech calls “the multi-tasking era,” looking for a great way to seamlessly move between our screens? Would using this keyboard really “dial up your productivity,” as the signage with the product suggests?

Research on multi-tasking in recent years has shown the practice can be detrimental to our productivity as well as our physical brain. Our brains are wired to focus on one thing at a time. We get distracted enough on one screen. Why would we move to a second or third screen if we can help it?

Logitech proclaims their keyboard is “what everyone needs to get more done from anywhere.” Yet it’s hard to think of any activities involving a keyboard important enough to justify starting on one device and continuing or finishing on another. Let’s start with the activity pictured on the keyboard box – texting. On a smartphone, brief chats or updates via text is one thing, but full conversations hunched over a keyboard? Picture yourself doing that for a second. Does it really make any sense? At a certain point, actually dialing another person’s phone and speaking to them verbally becomes more effective, and more personable, than prolonged thumb-powered exchanges.

How about word processing? Maybe you start a paper or a letter on your computer and think about finishing it on your phone or tablet. Why the device switch? Take a “break from your desk,” as the marketing copy suggests, but then go back and finish it on the computer. Word processing is best done on a full-featured desktop or laptop computer anyway. Have you tried using Microsoft Word on an iPhone? Works at a pinch, but it’s rather comical and doesn’t compare to the productivity achieved with a full computer.

A tablet and wireless keyboard offer a better writing experience, albeit a cramped one. I bought into that productivity illusion a few years back by buying an iPad with a fancy wireless keyboard, thinking it would revolutionize my ability to do stuff from anywhere. But as the owner of a sleek Macbook Pro, I hardly touch the thing, and I type on it even less. When you’ve got a dependable laptop or desktop computer, what need is there to type anything of consequence on a tablet or smartphone? Still, the lure of all our digital data being synced and available on all our devices is inviting, and the idea of moving back and forth between them with ease seems appealing, even comforting, to us.

What about podcasting or social media? Wouldn’t a multi-device keyboard come in handy for recording, publishing, and posting on the go? Well, if you’re snagging an interview in the field, use a real portable microphone and publish it on your laptop later. And social posting? Most of us do that on our phones or computers. Not much need to switch back and forth between devices.

Logitech’s offering reminds me of an air fryer I saw recently. The box for it warned new owners to “get ready for an amazing face-to-interface experience.” What the marketing team means, of course, is that users of the air fryer will love the presets installed on it and the general ease of use. But the way they word it is notable. We’re having more face-to-interface experiences than ever these days, whether it’s ordering food at a self-serve kiosk, pulling out our phone to order a coffee, or fiddling with any number of tech gadgets in our possession. The more face-to-interface we’re doing, the less time we’ll have for the face-to-face interactions that really matter. New studies are reported regularly showing the cognitive health benefits of supportive social interactions with other people in adulthood.

One of the steps toward authentic technology is establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries with the tech we choose to have around us. Screens have a place in our daily life, and wisely used, they can help us achieve remarkable productivity. But when it comes to interfaces, less is more. Forget the multi-device tools and multitasking between screens. Stick to a bonafide computer, take regular breaks from it while working, and enjoy the satisfaction of hitting the power button when it’s time to turn it off.

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