The other morning, as I was waiting for my bus, I was scanning the day’s headlines on my phone. A reminder popped up from my meditation app, reminding me to pause and take a couple of mindful breaths. I took out my earphones, closed my eyes, and took a few mindful breaths. When I opened my eyes, I noticed people all around me with their earbuds in and their eyes low – staring at their screens, with a lifeless look on their faces. And then I realized that up until a minute or two ago, I was one of them. What a difference a few breaths can make!
When mobile technology was young, Blackberries were at the top of the heap. Only a few people had them, and the rest of world laughed as those early adopters started to get hooked. We joked and called them “Crackberries”, comparing them to crack cocaine. Users started to tune out – hunched over their Blackberries, typing away furiously and oblivious to the world around them. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
For those of you who don’t recall it, when Blackberries first came out, it was really a big deal. It was the first time we had mobile access to things like our email, and the internet, and even some games. Before that, we were still using paper maps in the car and putting tapes and CD’s in our car stereos. Talk about a shiny new toy! And people who bought it found it really hard to put it down. And initially most of us found it funny. It was funny because we couldn’t relate.
But in the last few years, smartphone technology has gotten so much better, and so much more accessible. Now, instead of reaching into your pocket or purse for your phone, you can just ask your watch. Or your car. Suddenly, whatever answer you need, whatever song you want to hear, or whatever video clip you want to see, everything can be accessed in the blink of an eye.
It’s magic. And it’s addictive.
We don’t talk much about Crackberries anymore. Maybe this is because the mobile market has grown and not many of us use them anymore. But I think it’s about much more than that. I think it just hits us way too close to home. I’m afraid that the image of the Crackberry addict is something we are all too familiar with these days. Honestly, I think that we are in the middle of an epidemic, and we don’t even know it. We are, as a culture, getting addicted to technology. We aren’t in control of our behavior, and that’s a red flag if I have ever known one. Just try leaving your phone at home for one whole day. See if you don’t go through withdrawal. Technology addiction is real, but that doesn’t mean you have to give into it. In this case, awareness is power.
How many times have you looked at your phone today? How many minutes (hours?) did you spend scrolling through headlines? When was the last time you enjoyed a moment of quiet reflection when standing on line or riding the bus?
When addiction is in the picture, relationships tend to suffer. How many times have you seen a group of people, maybe friends, maybe family, sitting together in space, completely disconnected from each other- all of them looking down, lost in their own screens? How many times have you stayed up too late scrolling through your Facebook feed, fooling yourself into feeling like that’s enough human connection for you? When was the last time you experienced an undistracted moment of real connection with another person?
We have created some pretty amazing technology. But we have to be careful with it, because it’s downright addictive. One of the hallmarks of addiction is that the addict keeps doing something in spite of the negative consequences. How does your technology use impact your life? Your attention is a valuable (and limited) resource, and your smart phone can can be utterly seductive with its demands for your attention. How many reminders or notifications do you get a day? How much time do you spend looking at your screen?
There are some wonderful apps out there that are designed to keep track of your smart phone use. Apps like Checky help you assess exactly how much time you are spending on your phone. What do you think you would find if you installed it for a few days? Would you want to see your results?
If there’s a part of your behavior that you would rather look away from, do your future self a favor and address it now. Because it’s only going to get worse.
If you are ready to improve your relationship with the technology in your life, start by just paying attention. Try to just notice, without judgment, when you pick up your phone. Ask yourself why you’re doing it. Make a conscious choice about it. Every once in a while, when you reach out for your phone because you’re bored, or looking for distraction, just wait. Pause for a few moments, and check in with yourself. Why are you reaching for your phone in that moment? Is it really necessary? If so, then go ahead, but make a commitment to shut it off after you have finished. See how it is to follow through.
Do you want some support and personalized guidance as you develop healthier habits with technology? Contact me to schedule a meeting where we will talk about your goals, develop an action plan for you to follow, and a toolbox to help you along the way.
By Samara Serotkin; October 29th, 2015