Would you consider yourself a sane, reasonable person aged between 15 and 75? Then there’s a very real chance that you are completely and utterly addicted to your phone.
Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. You see, phones are specifically designed to ensure that you become addicted to them. Which is probably the most important thing I’ve discovered this week, thanks to Catherine Price’s new book ‘How To Break Up With Your Phone’.
The book, which was thoughtfully given to me by my team at work, is completely terrifying. Particularly when Price shares insights that link the functionality of smart phones to slot machines. You heard it, slot machines. The most purposely addictive machine ever created.
“When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes up next. When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we’ll get a match.”
– Tristan Harris, ex-Google employee
We get hooked on little doses of dopamine, a chemical that activates addictive pleasure receptors in our brains that cause us to feel happy and excited. Just like Ecstasy or Cocaine. When it comes to phone addiction, we’re not addicted to the content itself, we’re addicted to the action, to the thrill of something new to make us feel happy and calm. And just like class As, the more we use, the more we need.
Price also shares the interesting fact that the most powerful tech executives in the world choose to limit how much exposure their children have to technology.
Like I said. Terrifying.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to ascertain whether you’re a fully fledged phone addict.
When you eat meals, is your smartphone always part of the table place setting?
Do you find yourself mindlessly checking your mobile many times a day, even when you know it’s unlikely there is anything new?
Do you sleep with your mobile (turned on) under your pillow or next to your bed regularly?
Somehow, without realising it, we’ve become a nation who take their phones everywhere with them like a living, breathing thing. They join us in the bathroom when we’re showering. We soothingly scroll through them when we feel anxious. They help us to avoid awkward situations, like making eye contact on the train or waiting alone at a bar. They make it easy to cancel on our friends. We even sleep next to them. They have our backs, our birthdays, our weather predictions. But what are they really doing to our minds?
Quite frankly, I couldn’t even begin to add up how many times I’ve sat down to do something productive and unintentionally spent an hour doing absolute fuck all on my phone. “Oh I’ll just begin with a quick browse through Instagram or Pinterest for inspiration” and WHOOSH, I’ve lost yet another hour of my life.
I would say, that as someone with OCD and multitudes of hidden layers of anxiety because of it, I’m probably ripe for the picking for technology designers. Even without my phone, my brain is wired to constantly seek ways of coping and reassuring in day-to-day life. I may not turn the light switch on and off 100 times before bed anymore, or check the front door is locked 10 times before I actually make it to work, but I do feel ridiculously anxious when I’m not checking my phone. In fact, ‘checking’ is a common and often crippling symptom of OCD. The fact that tech companies may even be tapping into this phycology is pretty disturbing.
The more I think about it, the more I often feel that my phone has more of a negative impact of my mind than a positive. Yes, it’s practical. I can set my alarm, check the weather and choose which train I’m getting all at the same time. But why do I then spend a further 30 minutes scrolling through pointless shit before bed? Only to feel a little less sure of myself and the need to buy 17 new things the following morning?
Sometimes I sit down to write and my brain feels all mushy, like I can’t quite locate the right words or remember the correct phrases. I find myself googling the meaning of words I’ve been using in text and conversation my whole bloody life, or having the look up the name of that ‘thing’ three times before I actually internalise it.
In her brilliant book, Price confirms my worst fears. Smartphones are reconfiguring our brains, making it harder for us to remember things and retain information. If you’re scrolling through utter shit on a regular basis, shit that’s mostly predictable and boring, it’s no wonder your brain is full of the stuff, too.
I guess it’s a bit like drinking alcohol, which I do on a regular basis. You know very well that too much booze will leave you feeling bloody awful the next day, and yet you do it anyway. WHHYYYYY? Why do we do it to ourselves? It’s time to give ourselves a shake and take back control, just like we did when we finally stopped drinking so much on a school night.
Phone, it’s been emotional. It really, truly has. But I think that’s part of the problem. I’m too emotionally attached to you. You hold my photos, my dearest messages from the people I love, my personal notes and memories. When did I stop using my camera, having heart-to-hearts in person, or writing stuff down in notebooks? I’m sorry, but I’ve realised that you hold a monopoly over my life, and there a laws against that sort of thing. I’m going to wean myself off of you as best I can (I’m not expecting miracles here). Thank you, Catherine Price, for helping me see the light.
Your turn. Save yourself. Spread the word.
Catherine Price also wrote a brilliant article for The Pool – Read ‘Smartphone addiction made me restless, anxious and muddled’