Are you addicted to your phone?

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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.

Get your copy of ‘How To Break Up With Your Phone’ 

Catherine Price also wrote a brilliant article for The Pool – Read ‘Smartphone addiction made me restless, anxious and muddled’

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Her Poetry: Clutching at Straws

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Clutching at Straws

Clutching at straws,

But what if those splintering

Pieces of plastic

Are the only thing

That reaches down to the depths

And sucks at liquid gold?

I’m told and told

To release my grip

And dip

A little bit further down

Into a different pool,

Not a pool of light,

But one that grabs at my feet

And pulls,

Hurls me down,

To a bottomless pit,

A pit that cries a siren’s call,

It’s death to us all,

If I don’t reach up and clutch

At those splintering

Pieces of plastic

And suck at liquid gold.

Lesson 13: getting drunk

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When we’re blessed with not one, but TWO bank holidays, this often only means one crucial thing – lots of time to drink lots of alcohol. We’ve all been there, going out on that particular Thursday purely because we can get horrendously and unashamedly drunk without the worry of dragging ourselves to work the next day. My issue isn’t with our excited urge to embrace some well-deserved time off, it’s with the fact that so many of us do so by getting so very drunk. We live in a culture where that’s ok. More than ok, it’s completely and utterly the normal thing to do. Anyone who doesn’t drink is deemed a bit weird. But why?

Our drinking culture says as much about modern society as it does our individual personalities. It defines us more than we care to realise. We are judged not only on how often we drink, but also by what we drink. From age to class to gender to sexual orientation, stereotypes are rife: Malibu and WKD for teens, cider and VKs for students, pints of beer for the manly men and the women who like a drink, G&Ts for those who like to think they’re sophisticated, Whiskey and ginger for the hipsters, rum and coke for the cool kids, vodka for the all-rounder, rosé wine for the dolled-up blondes, white wine for the classy brunettes, red wine for the grown-up couples, cocktails for the attention seeker, champagne for the ballers. You get the gist.

I fall into four categories: beer, gin, red wine and champagne, which means that I like a drink, I like to feel sophisticated and I’ll always take the fanciest thing going.  There is a conflict going on here: my urge to drink more than I probably should and my desire to look good doing it. I’ve accidentally set myself an impossible task, which is probably why, nine times out of ten, I wake up feeling like my night didn’t quite go to plan.

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If you list everything you associate with a big night, you’ll find that, initially, most things are fairly negative:

Falling over and waking up with mysterious bruises

Losing your phone/wallet/keys/dignity

Ruining your shoes/dress/chances of getting lucky

Not remembering your favourite DJ/band playing

Kissing someone you definitely shouldn’t

Throwing up/passing out/falling asleep at the table

Eating terrible food and undoing all your hard work

Oversleeping the next day/calling in sick to work

Incriminating photos being taken/arguments with friends

Generally embarrassing yourself and being an idiot

A lot of the time we wake up the next day feeling sick, guilty and annoyed with ourselves, and yet we keep on doing it. When you think about all the positive things however, it’s easy to see why:

Relieving stress and being less uptight

Taking your mind off things

Laughing so much you cry

Bonding with work friends

Reuniting with old friends

Making some of your happiest memories

Having fun and pretending you’re younger than you are

Feeling carefree for a few precious hours

Having the confidence to do things you wouldn’t usually do

Hearing your favourite song and just being in that moment

Dancing like nothing else in the world matters

Simply forgetting all the bad stuff

When we get it right, the good things far outweigh the bad. A night out can be an uplifting, positive, memorable thing. The stuff that dreams are made of. The thing that reminds us that it’s ok not to take ourselves too seriously. That moment when you actually don’t care and are just laughing and dancing and hugging your mates. The only thing is; we all seem to think that practice makes perfect, and have dedicated our social lives to mastering the unattainable task of having the best time, every time, doing it more and more and more, until we’re well and truly addicted to the gamble.

Alcohol is addictive. Plain and simple. From the post-work glass of wine to the tenth Jager bomb of the night. As well as the fact it helps us define the sort of people we are, we are addicted to how it makes us feel, the fun we associate it with and the contextual markers it gives us: cocktail says ‘I’m on holiday’, champagne says ‘let’s celebrate’, mulled wine says ‘it’s Christmas’, tequila says ‘let’s party’. As a nation, we are incredibly dependant on these markers and definitions. Ignoring them by not drinking is like ignoring the rules. It’s ingrained. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – these unwritten rules remind us of what’s acceptable. For example, when we see someone drinking whisky in the morning we don’t think ‘LAD!’ We think, how fucking awful.

The two most important things to think about are a) the reasons why you drink and b) whether drinking brings out the best in you. Only you know your individual relationship with alcohol. Take some time to assess it and the role it plays in your life. Weigh up the good and bad and if you find some sort of imbalance, take the time to address it.

It’s ok to love going to raves, festivals, gigs, clubs, bars, pubs. I know I do. Some of my funniest, most incredible memories belong there, and that’s the most important thing: drinking to remember, not to forget. I met the love of my life at a party and was too drunk to even talk to him. Luckily for me, our paths crossed a year later, we bumped into each other at a festival and clicked instantly. It’s simple really – quite often, the more you drink, the higher the chance of ruining your night (and your chances of something amazing happening). I know it’s hard when you’re in the moment, or if you’re having a hard time, but if you can control how much you drink then you’re one step closer to being the best version of yourself you can be.

Have fun this Easter – go wild, let go and be the life and soul of the party – just try to do it without being too drunk to remember how great it was…