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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3 books to read when you’re feeling lost

We’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s hard to shift the feeling that your life isn’t quite going the way you planned. Staying motivated to be the best version of yourself is tricky when you start to lose sight of who you are and where you’re heading. Believe me, I know.

Maybe your mental health is running rife, or you’re going through a difficult break-up. Perhaps you’re struggling to cope with change, or things are just feeling a bit “blah” at the moment. Either way, feeling like you’ve lost your way is totally bloody normal.

I’ve discovered a truly wonderful combination of books to help pull you through. Alone, they are empowering reads, but each one kind of lifted me in a very different way. One of post-break-up self-discovery, one of normalising mental health, and one of rewriting history.

Reading them in succession definitely gave me a pretty big boost. Two are real life accounts of honest personal struggle, written in a way that make you laugh, love them and love yourself a little bit more. The other, I discovered, was almost finished and re-written totally differently before it became the absolute masterpiece that it is.

It’s amazing to feel that you’re being supported by a community of inspiring female authors who aren’t afraid to break a few rules, and who demonstrate that it’s possible to find your way again, however lost you feel.

 

Becoming, by Laura Jane Williams

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I’ve followed Laura’s blog and life on Instagram for a few years. She is a truly incredible writer and personality, and I wasn’t surprised to see she’s written a hugely successful book (now two…). ‘Becoming’ ended up really helping me through a time of confusion and upheaval. It reminded me that I’m not a huge fuck up, and that it’s important to work out how to be alone. Heartbreak bonds you to other people, but also teaches you a hell of a lot about yourself.

 

Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon

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Just, wow. I wish I’d found this book earlier, when I was diagnosed with OCD. Bryony is so honest. So, so honest. This book comforted me, reassured me, shocked me and exposed many elements of myself to me. I am one of the ‘We’ Bryony has worked so hard to reach out to by sharing her journey. And the best thing about this book? It made me laugh out loud despite itself, despite myself. It’s a huge step in the right direction to eliminating the stigma around mental health. It’s also the perfect read when you’ve recently committed confused acts of self-destruction.

 

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

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Dystopian novels are kind of my favourite. They serve as a reminder of the resilience of humanity when pushed to the edge of existence. Despite the ominous nature of this book, reading it kind of reignited something in my mind – a kind of hopefulness in the face of change. I felt compelled to draw on newfound inner strength in the face of adversity. It’s also important to escape into a fantasy world when your own thoughts are giving you grief.

The best books I’ve read this year

Summer solstice is fast approaching, provoking, as always, nostalgic thoughts of the year so far. As well as travelling, writing and getting engaged, I have thankfully found the time to read some bloody good books. So whatever your plans are for the next six months of 2016, I urge you to reserve time in your diaries for these life-enhancing reads.

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

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After I fell helplessly in love with The Goldfinch last summer, I decided I had better read Donna Tartt’s hugely successful first novel, The Secret History. The plots couldn’t be more different but there is the same strong undercurrent running through both novels: how far is too far? How necessary is it to push moral boundaries? And what are the consequences? The story is told by Richard, who unexpectedly finds himself as part of an elite, mysterious group of misfits in his first year at Hampden College. He becomes the otherness he used to observe, and is heavily involved in the brutal murder of a friend as a result.

Mrs Hemmingway, by Naomi Wood

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If you have ever loved been obsessed with someone you know is bad for you, please read this book. Played out between Ernest Hemmingway’s four incredibly different wives, Naomi Wood focuses sacrifice, identity, power, and all the cloudy areas in between for her chosen account of the character’s real-life intimacies. She unveils the human heart as the most complicated contraption. I spent most of the book loving to hate Hemmingway, and then I accidentally fell in love with him myself.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

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As someone who frequently experiences déjà vu and whatever the hell the actually is, I found the concept of Life After Life quite fascinating in a ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ kind of way. It depicts Ursula Todd, who lives her life over and over again every time she dies, with the added benefit of ‘knowing’ what might come next, without really knowing at all. The result? Killing Hitler, of course. I absolutely loved this book. It’s so clever. The heroine is such an inspiring character. She reminds us of the good we are capable in darker times, and that the unknown is not always something to fear.

A God In Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

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Not a sequel but a ‘sister book’ to Life After Life, A God In Ruins tells the full story of Ursula’s brother, Teddy. I would definitely still recommend reading Life After Life first; the juxtaposition between Teddy’s character as a boy in the first book and a (sometimes elderly) man in the second is too stark and purposeful to ignore. This book contrasts mundane routine with the ‘glory’ of war, reminding us of the discomfort and detachment there is to be found in both. Atkinson no longer plays God, but continues to play with time in a slightly unnerving way.

Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig

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Reasons To Stay Alive perfectly expresses all the things you wish you knew how to say to someone suffering with depression, as well as to yourself. It also addresses and includes anxiety, bi-polar, OCD and many other mental conditions in the same breath. Acclaimed author Matt Haig wrote this book about his battle with depression and anxiety as a way of proving to other sufferers that a) talking about depression and anxiety is the first step to controlling it, b) there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and c) you are never alone. Even if you think you know it all, reading this book will change the way you think about depression and anxiety. It is honest, funny and beautifully written.

The Last Act of Love, by Cathy Rentzenbrink

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Easily the best book I’ve read this year, purely because it’s the bravest. Brace yourself before you embark on this incredibly moving journey with author Cathy Rentzenbrink. She wrote this book about love out of the purest love there is. She wrote this book about her brother, Matty, and how a car accident turned their lives into a living nightmare. Cathy Rentzenbrink is my newest idol. I suddenly saw sense in the ‘bad things’ in my life; the painfully uncontrollable things. Reading this book encourages you to accept more than you’re think you’re capable of, simply because the possibility of a love as strong as Cathy’s exists.

I would love to know your reading recommendations for the rest of the year! Comments below welcome, as always.