We live in a brave new world of people walking with heads down, being led by their screens – as they float through space distracted and preoccupied. I am amazed at their ability to cross through busy intersections while barely looking up. We can be with our mates, our family, our children or our favorite friend yet continue to engage in a ‘conversation’ with our devices rather then converse with whom we are with. We dine out, witnessing couples and families with one or both mates glued to their screen and, even if sharing a photo or input, there is little sustained contact or conversation that goes uninterrupted.
Supposedly, social media and our devices express our desire to stay connected and that can be a good thing. We want to share with our extended communities our experiences told in photos or shared ideas, view others, converse through text etc. We can engage in a way that supports connectivity. Yet we need to be attentive to our present situations so we don’t miss valuable opportunities for face-to-face exchanges, meaningful conversations, humor, casual talk and physical tenderness in a sustained way, without distraction.
Conversations about this problem of technology have become cliché, as if the problem is duly noted – yet our devices still remain center-stage. We need to go further to change our habitual behavior as research shows that technology is addictive – functioning like drugs – as the brain releases dopamine with reinforcing triggers similar to a slot machine win (video games give random payouts to reinforce) or a hit of OxyContin. I am talking about behavioral addictions where a repetitive habit releases hormones in the brain that reinforce the negative behavior.
Research shows that people are leashed to their phones 3 hours a day; Snapchat can be opened 18 times per day by teenagers and as habitual use of video games escalates, teens and adults become imprisoned in their rooms. One survey showed that 60% adults are sleeping with their cell phones, checking email during the night and engaging in spying on their social media in the wee hours. 40% of students answer their phones at night and 47% text. Studies now show there is an increase in anxiety and depression in young people related to device use. Further studies demonstrate that when smart phones are removed with heavy-users, their anxiety reaction soared after 10 minutes and continued climbing for 1 hour. Baby-boomers are now compulsively checking voicemail and text. Insomnia rules and we have become an over-stimulated and exhausted population, teaching our kids our same unhealthy habits.
Many tech executives discourage use of devices for their children. Some prohibit certain devices and send their kids to a school in the Bay Area that does not permit the use of smart phones or tablets.
A pervasive fear of missing out goads this behavior on. We are creating a society of voyeurs living through watching others, filled with envy, jealousy and emptiness in our own lives. Our creative hours are wiled away scrolling and our creativity is stymied. Our focus is scattered, constantly moving from thing to thing, creating in its wake a deep restlessness – agitated states that lead to chronic anxiety as we scroll through our day. Porn use has increased as we relate, feel, and sense – not through interaction – but through solo flights of fantasy.
How do we rein in this problem? The first step is to discuss the problem with your partner, your family and/or your friends. Sit down with those in your household and discuss your thoughts and feelings about how each is relating to their devices. Is your mate always checking his phone, or glued to her Facebook or his computer. State your observations and express your feelings about how the two of you are relating and what changes need to happen.
For those with children – discuss the state of affairs regarding your children’s use of technology and how to rein it in if you haven’t already. Make a family plan and stick to it. You are responsible for the values you set or don’t set in your family. Teach your children to be engaged and attentive, gracious in how they interact, responsible for their commitments and engaged in a variety of activities. Help them to lead a healthy life that is not dominated by distraction and hyper-stimulation. Implement these values with your kids and teach by example. Take their phones, tablets and computers out of their rooms at night and put all charging devices in a common place that all can see. Teach them that at family meals there are no devices. At a restaurant you might now and again utilize tablet movies for younger children to keep sanity when with friends, otherwise not – as they can learn to focus and be part of the dining experience.
The experts and articles I cite in this blog can help. One study reported that limiting email check-in, both work and personal, to 3 times per day reduced stress and produced positive outcomes: mindfulness, perceived productivity and better sleep.
Here are recommendations, try them. If they are difficult to implement you know what that means.
- With social media, studies show it is better to post and engage (not compulsively) rather than passively viewing others posts. You want to increase social connectivity rather than voyeuristically view others. Chronic voyeuristic viewing of Facebook, Instagram and other sites stimulate feelings of envy, fear of missing out and other difficult emotions.
- Turn off notifications as much as possible – this simple action will reduce stress and distraction.
- Leave phones out of range at mealtimes – leave them in another room.
- Tuck your phone away if you are engaged in family time or are relaxing with a day off.
- Do not sleep besides your phone. Use an alarm clock. Put your phone elsewhere in another room or another floor of your house. Also tablets and laptops should be stowed elsewhere.
- When eating with others at restaurants, and even solo, keep your phone off the table and focus your eyes and heart on the other.
- When you walk down the street, look mindfully at what is around you; listen to the sounds of life, feel the ambient temperature rather than stare down and crook your neck as you glance at your phone.
- Do not check email after 6:00 PM. Reduce checking throughout the day.
- Use paper, notebooks and journals to write thoughts and action items so you do not use your devices constantly for registering important items.
- Reduce your own internal expectations of responsiveness; you do not have to keep up with every item compulsively or empty your email box every night or other compulsively driven mandates. Let friends and family know that you may not always respond quickly to their outreach.
- Spend time in nature as it is enjoyable and reduces the flow of stress hormones. Our relationship with trees and plants, birds and insects connect us to our true home. Feel the silence within as you walk or hike, touch your roots and feel at peace.
Let’s prioritize our well-being. Can we create space for relaxation and deep contact with each other while enjoying a more stress free, less distracted way of being? Yes, we can – if, we set parameters that we will follow. Once we change our bad habits – like any substance or behavioral addiction – we are free to move forward to a better life.
NY Times article: March 2017 by Claudia Dreifus interviewing social Psychologist Adam Alter at NY University in new book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.
Monitor (APA publication) March 2017: Why We Need to Unplug And how to regain control of our lives.