In early 2015 I was still living in California. At the time I was spending countless hours on my computer and smartphone. For some reason, I was feeling miserable as the time went by I realized that my unpleasantness was caused by the screens that surrounded me. I didn’t have a name for that yet, and I wouldn’t have called it an addiction. But I understood I had to take action. What did I do?
- I sold my TV set and with that money I bought an e-book reader and a few books on it.
- As soon as I woke up, I would pick my phone and started to chat on WhatsApp. Instead, I began to use mindfulness for the first ten minutes of my day.
- Last but not least I decided it was time to take drastic actions. That is how I gave up my super technological smartphone for a lousy phone that could only be used to make and receive calls!
I didn’t have a framework or a model. I just wanted to stop that unpleasant feeling I felt each time I got hypnotized by those screens. That is what I did for two years. I gave up my social media accounts, WhatsApp and any other thing that was negatively affecting my mental. In that period I realized none of this stuff was necessary and that I could actually survive without it. Indeed, one of the main reasons I believe people do not give up their smartphones, or social media is because they fear they would go crazy without them.
Yet after two years without a smartphone, I also realized it may not be the best way to go. Why? Technology isn’t inherently wrong. In fact, you want to still make sure you take advantage of the many technological advances. However, you want to ensure to have a framework in place to help you out when the addiction is around the corner. Why so? People developing those technologies are incredibly smart. They learned the human psyche’s inside out to make their services stick and to form addictions that become unbreakable. Therefore, like the smart investor has a stop loss. So you may want to learn the power of stop cues.
In fact, one of the things that make smartphones, social media and screens so irresistible and addictive is the fact that there is no end to that bonanza. The feed is an infinite scroll that goes on and on all day long. You could potentially be scrolling for days.
Online chat, like WhatsApp, have no limits. There’s no number of messages you can send before the app stops working. That is why you start sending all kind of messages. Those chats become an endless loop. Think of the times you joined a group only to be tied to that group
So what did I learn in those two years without smartphones and social media (I still don’t have WhatsApp and don’t plan to install it back anytime soon and I use social media for work)? A few lessons.
Number one: become expert in setting things up
When we first join a new social media the thing we care least are the settings section. Admit it! When is the last time you went to the settings? If you did so, probably is because your app was working properly so you were looking for how to fix it. In short, we master the settings of an app only when there are things to fix. One thing instead I learned in those two years without a smartphone, social media and TV set is to master the settings before I started to use the app. In other words, each time I find out a new platform, app or device I want t make sure I understand the settings of that device. For instance, the first thing I did as soon as I had the smartphone back I set all my push notifications off! Unfortunately, most apps don’t make it easy on you. By default many apps, social media and programs are configured to give you any kind of notification. At the end of the day that is how they make their service sticky. Therefore, it’ll be for you to find the time to remove the minefields that sooner or later will make you an addict.
Number two: would you drive a car without breaks?
Another crucial aspect I learned to use stopping cues. In other words, since tech gadgets make it so easy for us to have as much as we want of a product, you may want to have a stop here and there. For instance, if you realized is time to turn your computer away switch it off (don’t put it to sleep, it will be too easy to open it up) and place it far away from you. The worst thing you could do is to have it very close to your bad. Same for your smartphone. Make things as hard as you can. In that way, you’ll leverage on laziness to break bad habits!
Number three: awareness starts from data
When I began to use Rescue Time, an app for my computer that tracks the way I spend time on my computer I was surprised to see how much time I was wasting doing nothing. It isn’t like I have to be productive. I’m not a robot. Yet instead of being in front of this screen for hours I could do things that made me feel and be better off in the long run. When I started measuring my activity I was able to identify my problems. From data starts awareness. From awareness starts any behavioral change. There’s only one caveat, data is useful but don’t get addicted to it!
The ideas from this article got inspired by Nir Eyal and Adam Alter. Below a podcast and a TED Talk to go more in-depth into the problem of addiction and technology
Photo Credit: By Stock Unlimited