Social Media + Phone Addiction

One of the topics Tim and I tend to bicker about is our phones.

I don’t like it when he checks his email first thing in the morning while still in bed or peeks at a message coming through when I’m saying something to him and he doesn’t like how I grab mine when we’re watching a movie or tell him to be quiet while I record an Instagram story.

We’re both addicted to our phones, and don’t love how we’re revealing that to each other.

Chances are, you are addicted too. And that’s completely understandable.

More and more studies are coming out revealing just how much our devices and the apps on them are designed to keep us scrolling, keep us engaging, keep us holding it in our hot little hands as many hours of the day as possible.

When I was vacationing in Italy last month, I was relying mostly on wifi to keep connected to the outside world (and using data was really expensive). I kept my phone in airplane mode and had to resist the very strong urges to check Instagram, my email, text messages, the weather, etc.

I remember laying under a striped umbrella on the beach in Positano and feeling my heart race and my hands twitch with the desire to check my phone. After a few minutes, it passed and I spent most of the rest of the trip really practicing finding joy in the present moment of what I was experiencing. I was on a trip I’ve been dreaming about my whole life with my dear beloved partner. Why would I let social media and my phone ruin that?

Turns out...the addiction is strong enough to try to interrupt even the most gorgeous of vacations.

After years of having a deep attachment to my phone and social media, I’ve been spending the past 6 months or so looking more seriously at why I’m addicted and how to overcome it.

The other night, Tim and I went to our local burger joint for date night and walked in to see every seat in the place filled with someone on their phone or device. Every single person was on their phone.

It felt lonely. It felt scary. It felt like, in this time of incredible connection abilities through technology, we are more isolated from each other than ever before.

What eats at me is that the technology creators in Silicon Valley caught on to the beast they were helping birth long before we did. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would severely restrict their kids’ use of technology and devices at home, knowing full well the addiction potential of interacting with the technology they were helping to create.

The addiction lies within our bodies, with the neurochemical dopamine (known as the “reward molecule”) that is released when we exercise or achieve a goal.

It gives us this rush of joy that we love to feel.

Every time we share something online and receive some sort of reward response—like a “like” or a heart, or more followers, or a comment—we feel seen and rewarded with a sense of belonging. And, in the Age of Loneliness, we are all really craving this dopamine rush that helps us remember we belong.

The creators of these apps and products are well versed in understanding the human brain, so they design their interfaces to give you that rush of dopamine and keep you coming back to get your fix.

This is where The Infinite Scroll comes in - the rabbit hole we all go down where we can scroll and scroll and refresh and scroll some more on our social media feeds. It pulls us in, late at night when we should be sleeping and our eyes are burning but we.just.can’t.stop.scrolling.

The Infinite Scroll = FOMO manipulation + Dopamine Fix

FOMO = Fear of Missing Out. It’s a big deal nowadays when we have our eyeballs on the highlights of everyone else’s life and we start comparing it to the mundanity of our own real-life experience. We start having a harder time being present in our own experience because something way cooler and potentially more important is happening right now.

Our brains aggregate all that we’re seeing in our scrolls into one human experience and feel horribly depressed about our lives.

And while we’re bingeing on all the happenings of all the people doing all the things, these companies are collecting information about us and using them to serve us ads. So the longer our eyeballs are on our feed, the more money they make.

I gotta call myself out here because I am someone who occasionally advertises on these platforms for various things I’m promoting—like my retreats, free challenges, and live gatherings. So, in the interest of naming the very real dichotomy that is being alive in these times, I know that I am a part of this system. But. If the idea of these companies profiting off your screen time feels like sandpaper on your soul, I recommend opting out of targeted ads.

I recently learned about this term known as technology symbiosis from a study out of Columbia University.

It basically means that—with our rapidly developing technology and devices at our fingertips—our brains aren’t capturing and keeping information as easily. They are, instead, primed to think about the computers and devices that can access the information they need (aka Grandmother Google). Essentially, our ability to recall and store information is dropping as our brains are relying more on where to access the info instead.

But what’s really concerning me is our inability to be bored anymore.

We are filling every possible space we have in our days with the scroll. This means waiting in doctor’s offices, in line at the grocery store, when we’re eating lunch alone, when we’re sitting on the toilet, when we’re at a red light (yikes!), or when our dinner date gets up to go to the bathroom.

This habit of checking our phones in every possible moment is really doing us a disservice. We aren’t able to become bored anymore. We aren’t able to daydream or notice the little nuances of a cloud in the sky or the petals of a flower.

More importantly, we aren’t developing and nurturing those important ancestral skills of feeding our creativity, improving problem-solving, and finding presence and joy with just being by ourselves.

There is a huge issue with anxiety in our culture right now, and I’m a firm believer that our phone and social media addiction is helping to feed it.

Not to mention, we are losing our ability to have longer attention spans. I’ve noticed it’s been harder for me to read a book for long periods of time or even sit through a long movie without itching for a change of pace or something else to look at.

I’ve also noticed that I’ve been filling my days with podcasts (at one point, it was with at last 3-5 per day), so much so I had gotten uncomfortable with silence.

“Research has suggested, after all, that silence is beneficial to cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region central to memory, emotion, and the nervous system...We need to be able to let the mind wander without consuming content in order to be able to absorb the data, turn it into information, then knowledge, and finally wisdom. Each stage of that process requires time for evaluation.”
- Excerpt from I Listen to 35 Hours of Podcasts Every Week. Is That … Bad?

I need to be clear because I’m pretty sure I sound like a full-on Luddite right now:

I’m not anti-technology.

Technology is the reason you are reading these words right now. Technology has benefited me and my community in so many ways. I love the connection and inspiration I find online too much to give it up.

But I know some things have needed to change for a while now, and I’ve been spending time looking at it all and taking steps to unhook myself from the tethers of my addictions. Because a life of presence and connection and deeply rooted love of self is what I truly desire.

All the hearts and followers in the world can’t give me that.

I’ve been researching and testing ways I can unhook from my own addiction because, as much as these devices are programming us to use them, we are fully able to overcome it.

We can remember our ability to take care of ourselves without the need for a smartphone in our hands. Our ancestors did it for thousands of years, and so we can too.

Here are some things you can do to unhook from social media and phone addiction:

  • Turn off your notifications completely
  • Put your phone in airplane mode when you don’t want to be disturbed or be tempted to check it.
  • Create an auto-reply to incoming texts, letting them know you will get back to them when you are able to. Here’s a tutorial for iPhone.
  • Designate times of the day for you to respond to text messages, emails, and social media posts (remember, you do not necessarily need to respond immediately). When you are in your designated response time, you can be fully present to respond with care and attention as opposed to seeing something and forgetting to respond or not reading it all the way or responding carelessly (emojis are not full sentences).
  • Put your phone in grayscale to make the interface less tempting (here’s a tutorial)
  • Switch up your home screen to only show the apps you really need to access (or that give you joy).
  • Uninstall any apps that aren’t serving you. Do you really need that 3rd meditation app you’ve never once clicked on?
  • Consider installing these apps to help you reprogram your addiction:
    • Moment - An app that tracks all the time you spend on social media in a day. I really liked using this, but my cybersecurity expert husband wasn’t comfortable with giving a single app access to my entire phone, so I had to disable it. Use it at your own risk. I thought it was great.
    • Space - An app that forces you to take 2 deep breaths before opening a social media app (I’m currently loving this one!)
  • Keep your phone out of your bedroom and get a separate alarm clock
  • Play with leaving your phone at home for a couple of hours or even a full day to see how you feel and how you can survive without it
  • Go through your feed and unfollow anyone that is triggering or bringing up icky feelings. This could even be dear friends of yours, and that’s totally OK. Sometimes an IRL relationship is better than a social media one, know what I’m saying? Take 10 minutes and unfollow every account that isn’t serving you and regularly audit your feed so it stays that way.
  • Reframe your FOMO into JOMO, or Joy of Missing Out. Yes, a lot of cool things are happening in the world right now in this very moment, and you aren’t there to see it. But what you are doing right now in this very moment matters too! Your life is yours for living (and you’ve only got one of them). So let’s take some pleasure in turning off our phones and basking in the pure joy of not knowing what everyone else is up to as we are living our beautiful, messy, imperfect lives.

I want to be clear that I’m very much still in process with all of this. Some days, my addiction is more intense than others. I acknowledge that I am doing my best right alongside you, and I invite you to dig deeper with me. We can unhook from this together.

For further reading, I highly recommend Sophia Rose’s Technological Hygiene zine. She’s worked to create a beautiful, physical paper experience where you can journal more about your experience and set intentions and goals for unhooking from your phone.

I'd love to hear from you!

How do you create healthy boundaries with technology in your life? Share in the comments below.

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