Digital Junkies

I just read an interesting article in Newsweek on the effects always connected Internet devices have on humans.  It's certainly worth a read, but medical evidence is piling up that our constant connectivity is making us more anxious, depressed, and is destroying our ability to concentrate.  Because of the potential for reward contained in every cell phone notice, our brains reward us with a tine does of dopamine every time we respond.  This pavlovian conditioning ultimate results in a brain that show the physical patterns of addiction.

I want YOU to turn off your cell phone

We engage in these behaviors because we believe it makes us more productive, more social and ultimately more successful.  Instead, the opposite happens.  We spend more time working while our total output drops.  What work we do produce is of an inferior caliber.  We neglect social opportunities happening in person for potential virtual social interactions as well.

It's time to stop.  There are a set of "connection disciplines" I practice to counteract the effects of never ending digital continuity.  When I am consistent at these I feel relaxed, creative and connected to my friends and family.  Yet when some project grabs me like an obsession and my cravings for connectivity defeat my will to be disciplined I inevitably lose my calm state and regress into a state of neurotic dependence on media.

I encourage you to give these disciplines a try and see how you respond.

  1. Delay connectivity when you wake up.  One of the worst things you can do is start your day with email and texting.   It's much better to wake up, eat breakfast and get dressed before diving into the digital demands of the day.  This is critically important for making a plan of attack for your day instead of turning into an email-firefighter.  If you like to read the news on something digital before or during breakfast, feel free.  Just stay off social networks, email and SMS.
  2. Plan working blocks with limited connectivity.  When I am working on large projects, I typically silence my cell phone.  If I am working on my iPad, I'll often use Airplane mode to stop all distractions.  When I am working on my Mac, I will keep email closed and only check it one per hour.
  3. Put the phone away at meals & meetings.  If you are eating alone, avoid the temptation to socialize virtually.  If you are eating with friends or coworkers, pretend you don't have a phone at all.  This will actually benefit your employer!  When you don't allow your mind to disengage a problem during lunch, you often prevent yourself from gaining enough distance and perspective to solve it.
  4. Make 30 minutes before bed a "no media" zone.  If you want good sleep, you have to change your media habits.  Social media and email speed up your thoughts, and prevent restful sleep.  Television is not a good idea either.  The best pre-bed activities are conversation and reading.  Keep in mind that reading from a glowing screen is counter productive as you convince your brain it is midday based on lighting.

We are becoming digital media junkies, but it is a problem of our own design.  The power to break the addiction cycle is in our own hands.  I'd love to hear about your strategies for creating peace in the world of ever-chirping smartphones.