Are you addicted to your tech? Here's what you can do.
There’s no denying that we live in a technology driven world. I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m fully on the technology bandwagon. I can see how it’s made my life more efficient and productive. There’s something fun and “cutting edge” about being a part of the wave. Other times, I can viscerally feel the technology hangover, my anxious and strung out mindset, constantly playing catch up and perpetually connected in the most shallow way. My evolution as a human isn’t up to speed with the progression of society, it seems. Anytime I find myself at the end of a three hour bout working at the computer, I observe that my shoulders are tense, my head hurts just above my eyebrow and my eyes are exhausted.
Let’s backtrack for a sec. I spent a lot of time abroad in my twenties and there was a clear, common thread between each culture: the art of presence and connectivity, an appreciation for slow living. People looked at one another while they were speaking (no phones present), dinners were long, shared with other people and brimming with conversation and wine. I have a vivid memory of sitting at a cafe in Florence, Italy several years back. We were outside on the patio, fairy lights all around, a gusty breeze tickling the back of my neck…I was wearing a blue romper with wedge heels. The sun was setting over the cathedral behind me and I remember glancing back every few minutes so I could catch each phase of it. My wine cup was full, I had a plate of homemade pasta in front of me, my boyfriend at my side and family all around. I will never forget this moment. I will never forget how full and thankful I felt to simply be in the presence of those people in that exact moment. There was nothing exceptionally remarkable about that dinner that I can pinpoint. In fact, it was rather ordinary. But there was just something about how my soul was clearly longing for that connectivity — to food, to people, to conversation, nowhere to be, nothing pulling me to escape the moment. That memory shaped the direction of my life and is one of the reasons I do this health counseling thing. I believe the power of presence and slow living transcends words. It’s something that, once you feel it, never escapes you. You know — this is what it is to live.
So let’s go back to tech. (And for the record, I’m mostly referring to tech with screens in this article). Almost everyone I know feels negatively about their technology use and it makes me wonder how much of my life is spent looking at a screen nowadays rather than in meaningful connection to myself and others. The good news is that the iPhone now tracks screen time and we can, in theory, be accountable. The bad news is that modern day jobs too often require a significant amount of screen time and I’m not so sure there’s much I can do to change that.
I’d say a lot of us are both consciously AND unconsciously addicted to our phones. Without realizing the long term implications, we’re slowly replacing face to face social interaction (like the one I described in Italy) with remote, inauthentic connectivity (via social media and other remote forms of communication). There are obviously pros and cons of being connected in this way, so I’m not trying to villainize it completely, but there’s a rampant problem in our society now. The true crime here is that, often without realizing it, we sever our genuine, real life interactions by unintentionally or subconsciously reaching for the phone. Have you ever asked yourself what you’re being robbed of when this happens? Time? Relationships? Ability to focus? Productivity? When is the last time you stood in line for coffee at Starbucks without the phone in your hand, looking around at the people around you, making observations, smiling at your barista, simply being? Why is that so hard now?
Over the years, I've noticed I spend more time on the computer and less time doing activities that require movement (singing, dancing, performing, playing, running around like I did when I was a kid). I’ve observed that my introversion has become more extreme. I’m less likely to go out and see my friends, or accept an invitation to a party. At the same time, my anxiety levels are higher and my ability to focus is, frankly, disappointing and frantic. I can’t help but see the correlation between technology (and more specifically) cell phone use and my social ability/introversion.
At one point I stopped and asked myself a crucial question. Do people matter to me? And is this way of life something I’m choosing or is it something I’m letting happen to me? If people matter to me, then why do I keep staring at the phone when my roommate walks through the door rather than say, “Hello. How are you?” When is the last time I put my phone in the other room while I spent time with people?
So what to do?
Look, I do think we have to evolve and, in a sense, learn to coexist with these realities. I personally don’t have the luxury of living off the land and I actually love being in New York (call me crazy), so given that reality — what are my options? Here are my thoughts:
The first step is to practice living mindfully. The crime isn’t using your phone. It’s the fact that the phone has somehow trained you to adhere to its whim. When it dings, you pick it up. When it buzzes, you stop what you’re doing and react. Sometimes you even imagine it’s texting you. We compulsively check to see if anyone has reached out, liked our latest IG post, or responded to our email.
So just start to notice. Notice your habits around the phone, social media, email. Get curious. Did you make that choice or did you just react to an impulse? Why do you think that is? Is this habit taking anything away from you and if so, what? Do those things matter to you?
I like to journal or write down my observations, but spend a few days just tracking your time. As I mentioned, iPhones now tell you your screen time and where the bulk of it is going (social, email, podcasts, etc). That’s a nice (albeit ironic) tool, so take advantage of it. Do you check your email once a day or 20 times a day? What about your texts?
Notice. Cultivate awareness.
Live with Intention.
It is so easy to live on autopilot, to let life happen to you, but once you notice that you’re doing it, the antidote is to live with intention. Live wide awake, live consciously. When you respond to an email or text, you’re training your mind to react, when instead you could consciously choose what's best for you based on the context of your day.
So let’s get practical! For me, this means setting boundaries. I know I can’t help myself if I hear the ding on my phone. The ding is a freaking trigger to pick up the phone, so realistically I need to eliminate that altogether. Here are some things you can do and that work for me: I turn off ALL notifications. All of them. Social media, email and yes, text messages. In fact, I turn off the feature that tells you visually you have a text. I check them when I consciously pre-choose to check them. I check social media notifications at select times during the day and email only twice a day, in the morning and in the early evening. These habits eventually set expectations for people around me that I won’t be urgently available at their every whim. And I like it that way. 🙂
Eliminate ‘just checks’ by moving the apps that are most addictive to the last screen on your phone. 'Just checks' are when you subconsciously pick up your phone and ‘just check’ your social media, email, texts, etc. This is an ingrained, unconscious (NON) choice you’re making, so make it harder, become aware and try to eliminate this use of your technology altogether.
Create before you consume. Before you consume any content, create. Turn your dreams into reality. Take action. Then and only then, set a time limit and intentionally consume for inspiration. Don’t get stuck in the mode of consuming and gathering inspiration all day, everyday because without action, none of it matters. Also — not for nothing — but creating BEFORE you consume helps preserve your authentic voice and keeps you in your own lane. Win, win!
Integrate and Slow Down.
The next time you’re rushing, ask yourself why? If you’re checking your emails, texts, creating content for social media — check in with your mind and body. Are you tense? Can you relax anywhere? Can you breathe a little deeper? Can you invite ease and put a little smile on your face? Is there room to slow down? What would happen if you slowed down?
I went over little habits and tricks to detach a bit from your devices and to begin breaking the process of mindless, reactive living. So now I invite you to consider how you can integrate conscious, intentional living in a big picture way. It’s one thing to break the technology habit, but it’s quite another to venture toward community and connection in real life. This doesn’t have to look the same for everyone, but here a few suggestions:
Host a weekly or monthly dinner at home and invite new people every time. Instead of eating alone, create space for people to eat and drink together, to talk and connect face to face. Notice what happens over time, within you and throughout your community. I think you’ll be amazed — there’s something magical about eating meals around a table with friends. If you’re on a budget like me, make it a potluck!
Make it a priority to connect with people in your career (or hobby) network each month. Meet new people and do things together. Seek out real life community, whether that be through shared interests, fitness, or career related activities.
Heavily invest in 2 or 3 friends that you really sync with. These few are crucial to your wellbeing, so be picky. Fostering and nurturing genuine, real life connections gives life meaning and abundance. It’s important to find people to do life with.
Continue to reassess your relationship with technology. I’m not asking you to disconnect completely — a lot of us don't have that option. But hold yourself accountable by going through this process on a monthly basis and ask yourself questions so you can keep you relationship to it and the humans around you as beneficial as possible.
If you work a desk job, take a break from the computer every 50 minutes. Literally step away, do a vinyasa, close your eyes, stretch, whatever. This will help both your productivity AND your sanity.
Get out in nature. There is no better antidote in life. Let the earth teach you what it is to be human.
Remember: Your life belongs to you. You get to choose. You get to decide where your time goes. Take ownership and wake up. If you’re brain has been functioning on autopilot, then it’s time to figure out what gives your life vitality, meaning and genuine connection. Your life belongs to you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with social media, cell phone addiction, annoying notifications, the state of your real life relationships and how you’ve worked to preserve that in our modern world.