Smartphones: Dealing with our digital addiction
You know the feeling, said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. Your phone buzzes, urging you to check “some bit of digital effluvia”—a news update, Instagram likes, a funny tweet. Even if you resist looking, your mind soon starts to wonder about what you might be missing. Tech addiction, once a “staple of tabloidy panics,” has recently assumed “a new and more righteous flavor.” Some of the very people who built our “systems of digital addiction and manipulation,” including Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, have begun to publicly express regret about designing social media platforms and apps that exploit our vulnerabilities and get us hopelessly hooked. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said recently. As we stare incessantly at our phones despite the warnings, it’s becoming harder to deny these devices’ “otherworldly, possibly unhealthy bondage over our brains.”
“The past few months have brought an escalating awareness of the perils that lurk in our pockets,” said Ellen McCarthy in The Washington Post. But many of us are finding that it’s “really, really hard” to break up with our phones, in part because we simply don’t know how to be idle anymore. A 2014 study by researchers at Harvard and the University of Virginia found that nearly half of the participants would rather give themselves a small electric shock than sit for 15 minutes immersed alone in their own thoughts. We should be particularly worried about these devices’ allure for the youngest users, said Jenny Anderson in Qz.com. Excessive screen time can interfere with kids’ sleeping, eating, and ability to concentrate, prioritize, and control impulses. And given that many apps and platforms are “designed with the specific goal of enticing a child and keeping them coming back for more,” regulating kids’ time on a device is critical.
So what can we adults do? asked Michaeleen Doucleff and Allison Aubrey in NPR.org. First, “consider a digital detox.” The average adult checks his or her phone 50 to 300 times daily. A weekly 24-hour sabbatical in which the entire family disables their devices can work wonders. For the rest of the week, consider turning off notifications, and use a wristwatch or an alarm clock to check the time at night. Try also to exclude your phone from mealtimes. “Don’t even set it on the table.” But don’t go overboard: Banning your phone may “have the perverse effect of making it more enticing,” said Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. “What you need to do is make it boring.” Try switching your phone’s settings from color to grayscale. Instantly, it’s “vastly duller.” The best way to negotiate a saner relationship with tech may simply be to make it “too tedious to bother with.” ■