Actualizator, the most recent DoR project, is a newsletter split into seasons of several weeks each, while we will be supporting each other to learn new things, to improve the way we are living, communicating and making decisions.
This is the first episode of Digital Control, a season about how we can transform our addictive relationship with our mobile phone and its promises. The host of these series is Cristina Chipurici, content creator seeking for ways of doing things better.
I had many years when I was looking at others’ perfect lives through the social media peephole, and I was ignoring the fact that I was only having access to the surface of the iceberg, to the peaks they wanted to show. Rationally speaking, I knew that it’s a fantasy, and that nobody’s life looks like that.
The opposite seems to be the actual truth. The more a couple is posting more pictures on social media to brag about how happy they are, the more this is a warning sign. The more one is bragging about their personal success and seeks to draw attention on it every possible way, the more you start wondering when this person has time left to work.
Many years this was also my case.
The bigger my emotional chaos, the bigger the need to consuming more information. Even if it was irrelevant for me and it was impossible to read more than any other people in this world, I was under the illusion that this was the way I could be more in control.
Now I know I was actually trapped by addiction.
Normally, the term “addiction” was used for drug or alcohol consumption.
For the past 10 years, this definition started including the behaviours getting out of control as well. It is not only about the psychoactive substances anymore, but also about the gambling, gaming, porn or using the internet overall.
The neuroscientific studies show that when we are absorbed of these activities, neuronal links and chemical reactions are activating in our brains, and they’re as intense as when the brain of a drug addict is affected by a certain substance.
The founders of the most time-consuming digital platforms and tools are the modern dealers and they offer us the best drugs. They make us feel important, they make us believe we are the ones that matter. They offer us connection with others. They give us access to varied information 24/7, which gives us the illusion that we are in control and we can tell the future.
With the phone in our hands, we believe we are some sort of mini gods.
THE VIRTUAL AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR REAL EXPERIENCES
Us humans are not built to be happy. The oldest part of our brains will always prioritize the actions that increase our survival chances. Every time we will take actions to increase our chances of perpetuating our species, we will receive chemical rewards that create addiction. This means food, social connection with people that make us feel safe, new information (also giving us the impression of being safe) and sex.
We have been getting these chemical rewards extremely rarely over evolution.
Now we have Instagram. In other words it is extremely easy to do all these things online, because they are so handy, we just need to take the phone put of our pockets and tap the screen a few times.
The more an app or a social media platform ticks more of our needs, the more addicted to it we end up.
Every time we use them, we receive in our brains some chemical rewards very similar to those we are getting when we are doing things in real life. They are the same reactions that appear with drug consumption, and dopamine, the pleasure hormone, is being generated.
The problem is that we end up satisfying all those human needs in a superficial way. It’s worthless ticking them hundreds of times a day, if we do it to such a poor quality. It is normal to be “hungrier” than ever at the end of the day; tell me you haven’t find yourself in all that non-sense scrolling before going to sleep.
We are becoming addicts and it’s harder and harder to break the vicious circle.
In one of the darkest stages of my life, when I was down on every level, professionally, emotionally and physically, I went into a tough and unverbalized depression. I was waking up panicked in the middle of the night and I was starting to reply to e-mails, as I couldn’t have slept otherwise.
I was continually consuming information.
I was obsessively doing a slalom between tabs and kept refreshing them: news, articles for work, blogs, social media feeds, instant messaging apps and weather prognosis. I was this way feeding my illusion that I am taking control over my life; however it was just not working. It’s like when you’re eating junk food, but the satiety won’t last for long, and you’ll end up needing to eat even more.
It was over then when I was posting the most on social media, but nothing that could have reveal my state of mind. I was feeling alone, and I was thinking that if everything seems to be ok in the eyes of everyone, it would mean it actually is. But nothing was ok.
I was becoming addicted to notifications, all those likes, hearts, comments, shares and private messages. The more online attention I was getting, the more I was wanting it.
I allowed myself to feed my confidence and my self-respect from these external validation sources, instead of getting them from sources I had under my control. I had built myself a sandcastle. I was becoming addicted to the social media confirmations, and I didn’t know I was without them anymore.
It was a process of several years and it took a lot of work with myself. A lot of introspection, a lot of honest conversations where I tried to find out who I was, what is it that truly mattered to me and what I truly wanted. It’s a process that is still on going and it will probably never end, but at least now I am not lying to myself anymore that everything is ok.
It took things to become painful enough to finally accept that I was banging my head against the wall and I had no idea what I to do, to ask for help, to action and actually change something.
Professionally speaking it was even worse. Being an introvert and self-insecure, the digital environment was helping me to remain blocked in a comfort zone. I was rather messaging my work colleagues on social media, via chat or e-mail, instead of talking to them in real life. I would have given anything to avoid a human interaction, because this way I was also running away of a possible refuse. It was less painful when I had to deal with confrontations and refuses that I was receiving digitally.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1. What is it that you need? In my case, what helped the most was the idea of taking a break every time I felt the need of unlocking my phone and asking myself what needs the app I was looking for was satisfying? Was it about feeling important? Was it about connection with others? Ore was it actually the boredom and the need of getting a news shot?
For example, I was in the tube and I was taking my phone out of my pocket out of reflex. But over time I learned to ask myself: what do I want from Facebook right now, apart from the impression that this way the ride will be shorter?
2. Apps to help you. I couldn’t do this alone, I had to install some apps as well that helped me, or better said forced me to build new habits.
One of them, Rescue Time, was monitoring the time I was spending online, and it was showing me what sites I was spending the most time on. I was lying to myself that I didn’t have time for anything, until I realised that I was daily spending an hour on Facebook. And this was only on desktop, because on the mobile it was probably another hour. An hour on Facebook doesn’t seem much, right? That what I thought, until I did the maths: an hour a day means two weeks in a year.
Two weeks that I didn’t know where were gone.
After this I installed another app, Stay Focusd, that was blocking my access to certain websites if I was spending to much time on them. I set it so that I allow myself only 10 minutes in a working day on the websites I knew were an issue. When I was passing the time limit, the app was cutting my access. This helped me bring a balance and get more efficient with the way I was using technology for work.
3. More interaction IRL. Instead of messaging or e-mailing the people I was working with, I started proposing to meet for a coffee. I wasn’t anymore that digital character that wanted to prove at any cost that she was perfect, I was a human in flash and bones in front of them. I started allowing them to see all my vulnerabilities and, instead of being rejected (as I was expecting), it was exactly the opposite. Our relationships became stronger, the work results were more creative and had a bigger impact.
4. Would you pay for it? Another strong question that helped me filter what was worthy of my attention and what wasn’t: if I had to pay to be able to use that app/ take that online action, would I pay for it?
Most of the times the answer was NO. My time and attention are the most valuable goods. When I forced myself to put a price on how I was spending every minute, I started cutting any digital interaction with no mercy.
Don’t forget: the more time we spend using a certain platform, a phone, a steaming app, a social media channel, the more money they make the less focused we are on what we really want to do.
Nir Eyal, Hooked. If you are curious to find out exactly the way apps and technologies are built to make us become addicted, read it! The same Nir Eyal recently launched the antidot: Indistractable, a book about how we can learn to manage our attention.
📧TELL ME HOW IT GOES
You are not alone in this journey. If 2020 is the year when you decided to improve your screen time reports or you decided you are spending to much time on Facebook, let me know at email@example.com. I might not reply to every e-mail, but I do read everything in my inbox.
How did you end up realising that you have been involved in a toxic relationship with technology? What harmful effects do you feel it has on you? And if you are trying any of the above tools, tell me how the tests work and what are your first results.