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"Technology-Aided Addiction"

Hey! Don't you have important goals to accomplish? Put the phone down and get to it...or read about why it matters first.

Hi, I'm Chase. I'm addicted to information, and I have been for a very long time. I got an early start with high-speed internet access in 2004.

I'm beyond ready to quit.


The smartphone's taken a lot of criticism in the past year for lacking in recent innovation and for the widespread social impact that the technology's caused.

It's fantastic that we're finally thinking about the technology and its impact critically after 12 years of uncontrolled propagation.

However, when people discuss "technology addiction" or "smartphone addiction", they've got the big picture wrong.

Devices were never the problem. Applications are.

You don't know anyone addicted to a calculator. You don't.

If you could write a Facebook application for a calculator, I guarantee you that students would quickly become addicted to it.

Certain apps exploit our primitive desires (either through deliberate design or accident, that's another post entirely) and have been frying our brains for the last 12-13 years.

These apps hijack our reward centers. They're not much different than Doritos and porn; they're just in a different class.

That being said, I'll refer to addiction caused by these powerful exploits as "technology-aided addiction".


Avenues of Addiction

These "concepts" keep us looking at out phones all of the time.

1. Many popular smartphone applications create "unbounded streams of information".

As humans, we'll happily take all of the information that we can get about anything: the world around us, what our friends are doing, the latest world news/developments, clickbait...

How many times have you scrolled down the endless streams of Reddit, photos tailored for you on Instagram, topics on Twitter, archives of long-lived blogs, or anything else and emerged back into reality hours later without a clue of where you started?

When we're exposed to a never-ending stream of data, we don't naturally impose time limits on ourselves unless we have other obligations. Apple tried to help us fix this with the "Screen Time" feature in iOS 12, but it isn't enough (more on that in the future).

Web browsers (and the entire, unrestricted internet), news applications, and social media applications with feeds fall into this category.

2. Social media apps target individuals who are prone to seeking attention and validation. (And we all seek it sometimes...)

You all have at least one friend who can't stop posting things for attention: contrived status updates, endless pictures of themselves, rants, animal pictures, or whatever else will get them a few likes.

For whatever reason, whether it be action derived from an immutable personality characteristic or low-self esteem, some people can't resist doing this. Worse yet, others reward this attention seeking behavior with attention which creates a self-reinforcing cycle.

To be clear, we all want attention and validation sometimes, and it's reasonable to share your life with others occasionally. However, this technology is extremely enabling for people with this susceptibility and is often abused.

Tinder and quick dating apps are another form of validation seeking. I know that when I've used Tinder, I'm usually more interested in seeing the girls that I match rather then reaching out to them.

3. Video games, "gamified" applications, and social media "likes" create an artificial sense of achievement.

Positive feelings of achievement are the only thing that keeps you coming back to digital games. Otherwise, what would compel you to play a single-player game?

Social media "likes" do the same thing. Most content that people post is far from outstanding, but there's still a perceived reward for it.


Why Does It Matter?

Technology-aided addiction is reducing our quality of life. It's been a problem for years now, and I don't see it ending anytime soon.

Some of these negative effects have been beaten to death, but some of them are things that have crossed my mind when I've considered the topic.

Technology-aided addiction...

...promotes scatterbrainedness/reduces focus on long-term planning.

By spending all of your downtime on your phone, a place where there is an infinite amount of unrelated information, it becomes hard to focus on long-term goals.

You might say that this addiction creates ADHD-like thought patterns.

...reduces consideration of new possibilities.

I've found that since I spend so much time on the internet, I tend to not focus on new ideas or plans in my downtime since my thoughts are very directed toward the content I'm consuming.

...discourages introspection.

On a similar note, if you fill your downtime playing on your phone, you're not thinking about certain aspects of your life.

...stunts critical thinking.

Why start thinking about a problem yourself when you can Google it?

...impairs our sense of navigation.

Why remember where a place is when you can type it into Google Maps?

...wastes time.

I don't know about you, but I don't spend the enough of my personal time on technology being productive (writing, coding, producing music, editing photos, etc).

This isn't to say there isn't value in browsing the web, especially if you're learning useful things, but it's too easy to spend time on things that add no value to your life.

...reduces self-esteem and can promote overall life dissatisfaction.

Unless you're top dog, comparing your life to the lives of others is likely to bring you down.

"Why does everyone seem like they're doing so much better than me?" "Why does x have a better life than me?"

...skews one's perception of their value.

Tinder. Instagram. Enough said.

...makes us feel less connected/more lonely.

You can have over 1,000 of friends on Facebook that you may even casually chat with but not have a single person that really gets you or knows your life.

...may impact in-person social skills.

I'm intensely curious about what 3-year-olds who spend all of their time on iPads will grow up to be like.

...promotes global homogeneity in thought, interests, and style.

As humans, most of us copy what others are doing. If everyone on earth is more-or-less experiencing the exact same content, we could become more similar in just about every way.

There will always be outliers, but gentrification and globalization has already made the world frighteningly similar in most places already. Difference is so much more interesting.

...promotes instant gratification.

Anything worth having in life takes time and effort to obtain. The sheer amount of instant gratification we get via technology makes truly valuable tasks seem more frustrating than they are.

...enables escapism.

The digital world is the greatest escape route ever constructed. We can easily fill every minute of our time with different applications and information streams.

Literally the second that we start to feel unhappy or uncomfortable about anything, we've got our instant out. We don't even think about it.

...causes discomfort when we're away from it.

Ever sit at a coffee shop lately and do absolutely nothing? Didn't think so.


The Solution?

The issue is clear: we're "exploited" to look at our phones all of the time, and doing so negatively impacts our lives.

The fix? Self-control.

Much easier said than done.

You could try and quit cold turkey, but as with any addiction, you want to set yourself up for success. You wouldn't give an alcoholic easy access to a bottle of whiskey as they're going through recovery.

But unlike whiskey to an alcoholic, these applications can provide some positive value when used correctly. And by abandoning your entire digital life, you're missing out if you're under the age of 40.

Quitting entirely is a poor solution. However, keeping your digital setup exactly the same and relying on self-control alone is equally poor.

I've done some thinking, and I've found an effective middle-ground.

The rest of this series will focus on a personal experiment to curb my addiction by introducing context into my digital life. More on that shortly...

25. From Pennsylvania, USA. Software engineer at Amazon.com, traveler, scuba divemaster, amateur photographer, aspiring minimalist. A bit restless.

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