Are we all addicted to our technology – well definitely a lot more than we will admit. Tristan Harris formerly of Google warned that apps and websites were not gifts from IT gods to help build a better world, they were instead designed to put slot machines in our pockets and he famously said: “the problem is not that people lack willpower, its that there are thousands of people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation that you have”.
It is clear that the addictive properties on social media are not accidental. Facebook’s notification symbol used to be blue but as they understood how humans interact with tech, when they changed the colour to an alarm red colour, clicking sky rocketed. Moreover, why is it that so many tech giants like Steve Jobs have ultra-strict rules around technology use?
If you cast your mind back to the 1990’s there would have been a few people walking around with a Sony Walkman. Today, its very different with a huge amount of people putting in earbuds as they walk out the door, many with the hope of not having to talk to another human. The iPod/ smartphone provides an ability to be continuously distracted from your own mind and never alone with your thoughts. It also limits any random conversations and meetings with other people. Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego highlighted that the soaring rate of teenage depression and suicide can mainly be put down to the increase in teenagers owning their own smartphones. As she says, “humans are not wired to be constantly wired”.
When it comes to work itself, email has become such a burden. It’s a depressing statistic that the average office email is opened on average every six seconds and employees check their account on average, 36 times every hour. This was not the original goal of email!
I know that this tech addiction is not good for my health, my relationships, my ability to think, sleep and much more but I also know I’m fighting a losing battle. Tell someone you are deleting your facebook account and they will tell you how much you will miss, but no one will mention how much time you will save. Ask yourself what you would do in the lift, waiting at a bus stop, sitting on the toilet etc if you did not have your phone? We are being drawn in even more, by whatsapp groups, Instagram, email, snapchat or whatever you are having yourself, so what to do? Having read a lot of solutions, many seem too draconian as a starting point, but here are five things I have done which has given me a huge amount of time back in my week. Maybe don’t try them all at once:
No pop ups: stop all notifications appearing on your phone and pc (email pop-ups are a productivity curse); be in control of everything, so you go into whatsapp when you want to not every time you get a notification. The only things truly urgent on your phone are the phone calls and to some extent text messages. I know many people replace text with whatsapp but lets be honest if its urgent they will get you on the phone and maybe you miss one or two things but this can happen anyway. When it comes to your email – ensure it never highlights when you have new emails, this is very easy to set up on your phone and means you don’t click on the email icon every time you that you’ve got mail. Remember email is not urgent, and if you believe that it is, you have made it that way!
No phone by the bedside: Ideally leave it downstairs. I know how many people will start by asking how I wake up in the morning (a clock radio by the way)! No generation before us ever needed this level of connectivity so why are we so special. Sleep is the most important daily activity to get right. If you find this too shocking a solution, why don’t you just put the phone more than arms reach away. It will improve your sleep, your mood, your weight and your productivity and much more.
Take apps and passwords off your phone: You notice with many social media sites that you mainly check them on your smartphone. Take access to Twitter Facebook and Linkedin etc away from your phone and just have access from your computer. I deleted the apps on my phone and then had my son change my password so I don’t know it (and cannot login via the phone browser), my social media is still logged in at my desk just not on my smartphone. It seems scary but you will be amazed how much you will read, think, talk to others when there is no pull to go online every chance you get. For some, it may also mean deleting other addictive apps like news feeds (again you can easily access these on your pc and do you really need to know what is happening all the time?), or whatever your number one time stealer is (for some its games).
Group exits: Take yourself out of almost every whatsapp group: this can seem very hard as people add you to groups and you have to be brutal about taking yourself away from them. You can join these groups when needed but not all year round, again you may feel you are missing out, but you often forget the time you are saving (especially on those school whasapp groups where suddenly I am not kept abreast of the 52 messages on a pitch location!)
This is only one approach and I know everyone’s circumstance is different so I am just giving you my thoughts not a roadmap for everyone. I’m always interested in other people’s hacks to help them minimise their unwanted screen time (I fully appreciate there are lots of good things online but this is about taking control of your attention).
Ask yourself how many books you now read, how much time you spend with your partner, kids, exercising, taking up a new hobby. Ask yourself how many random conversations you get into? Finally ask yourself if you look at your phone when you are just bored (think about how worrying that is). It’s not good to be constantly busy/ distracted or plugged in so make a conscious effort to change, as it is harder than you think but well worth it, and if you don’t start soon it might be too late.