TIAA: 2019 Resolution: Be More Mindful About Smartphones

Originally Published on

By Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President and CEO at TIAA

This month marks a 21st-century milestone: it was 12 years ago that Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world, ushering in the “smartphone era.” I think it’s safe to say the world has never been the same.

About three-quarters of American adults (and more than 90% of Millennials) own a smartphone, making it “one of the most quickly adopted consumer technologies in recent history,” according to The Pew Research Center. From our personal lives to our work lives, smartphones have become essential to our day-to-day existence, enabling us to connect, consume, navigate, learn and so much more in ways that seemed impossible just a short time ago.

Most of us can’t imagine living without our devices. Yet our increasing dependence on them has given rise to increasing concerns about smartphone “addiction” and the ways that overuse can harm individuals and the larger society. Apple has been hit with demands that it do more to curb kids’ iPhone use. Doctors have warned of a link between heavy smartphone use and mental issues like anxiety and depression, as well as physical issues like “text neck.” One city in China is cracking down on “smartphone zombies,” people so absorbed by their screens that they become a danger to themselves and others.

In the workplace, phones can easily hurt productivity when they’re used to obsessively text or check social media. In fact, a 2016 survey of employers had phone use and texting as No. 1 on a list of productivity killers. Some even advise keeping your phone locked up in a drawer while at work. That might sound extreme, but it will ensure you’re not that person who is always trying to surreptitiously look at their phones in meetings. (We see you.)

The New Year is a good time for all of us to take stock of how and how much we’re using our phones and to resolve to bring more mindfulness to these activities. I believe that one of the most valuable benefits they offer is the power to make our lives easier, by enabling us to more efficiently tackle some of the essential tasks of life. For example, I use my phone to help manage my financial life. I take advantage of TIAA’s mobile app, launched last year, which enables me to manage my TIAA retirement, banking, and brokerage accounts all in one place.

Another great way to use your smartphone is as a tool for learning. You can access quality news sources to keep up with what’s happening around the world. You can download books or podcasts (one of my favorites is The Argument from The New York Times) and enjoy them while waiting in line, instead of checking your Facebook or Instagram feeds. You can download educational apps to boost your knowledge of a favorite subject. If you’re a parent, you can focus in on apps that help build kids’ financial knowledge and in the process help to set them up for a lifetime of financial well-being.

For 2019, I challenge each of us to ask ourselves a key question: am I using my smartphone in a way that’s improving my life If the answer is no, then it’s time to take action. Using our phones wisely means setting limits and prioritizing purpose over distraction. With the right attitude and a dose of self-discipline, we can tap the power of our devices in a way that makes us more efficient and effective. Such an approach will leave us not addicted, but enlightened. That’s a resolution well worth working for.


Join Our Newsletter

Get the top workplace fairness news delivered straight to your inbox