Photo credit: http://www.steadystrength.com
I wake up and enjoy an extended, suspended, if-only-this-will-never-end moment of absolute calm. For a few slothful minutes, dreamland dissolves into reality like it’s being stirred into hot milk, then suddenly, I gain full consciousness, and the mixture curdles. The day ahead is unappetising; full of uncertainty, pressure, stress, commitments… it is all too much. I need an escape. Something to take my mind away: to distract me, relieve me, replace those feelings with something soothing, fulfilling, surprising. I reach for my drug.
I reach for my IPhone. I need to check my phone, and my email, and my uni email, and Facebook, and Instagram, and MyExeter, and the news page, and…
I’ve only been awake for 7 minutes, but I NEED to check all of these things now. Turns out I’m not alone in this compulsion: 80% of us with smartphones or similar technology log in to cyber-world within 15 minutes of waking… before we’ve even brushed our teeth.
Photo credit: http://www.viget.com
If someone challenged me on my email checking and social-media-scanning, I’d probably persuade them (very eloquently) that I am simply a techno-savvy, hyper-efficient digital socialite who’s got it all under control.
The truth is, I’m probably addicted to being online. To some extent, I think we all are.
I wasn’t lying about this being a digital age – today’s society is structured around technology. It’s not just about how we interact with people personally, it’s how important societal structures (the media, the government, university, businesses) choose to communicate with us and relay important information.
But I was definitely lying when I said this makes me hyper-efficient. The bottom line is nothing wastes more time than technology. Technology may speed certain tasks up, but when we engage with technology, the interaction doesn’t stop there. We’ve developed an emotional attachment to our devices, and we’ve made an emotional investment in our apps. Technology has become so fundamental to our identity, our organisation, our wellbeing, our self-assessment – it’s no exaggeration to say we’re lost without it.
Technology addiction has become synonymous with everything shameful about our generation – our technology usage brands us as anti-social, materialistic, voyeuristic, attention seeking, vain, dissatisfied and in constant need of stimulation. But surely there is more to it than Facebook-stalking, selfie taking, fitspo, foodporn and wanderlust? This is where science comes in. Sites like Facebook have been designed with human psychology in mind – specifically, they’re creating features which activate the release of two highly addictive neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is the ‘reward hormone’ that drives us to seek out things that give us pleasure. It invigorates our commitment to the cause and makes us driven, even obsessive, about the ‘hunt’ for the reward. Online, these rewards are social or status enhancing – they involve engaging with other people or boosting our own online profile with numbers of likes, followers and flattering comments. The social nature of these rewards makes this a catch 22 situation, because they also trigger the release of serotonin. Mostly commonly known as the ‘happy hormone’, serotonin corresponds to intimacy with others and our alpha-instincts to climb the social ladder. And once we’ve formed an association between our devices and the enigmatic rush of dopamine and serotonin, we’re hooked.
Photo credit: http://www.atlassian.com
Technology can elicit these highs: when we receive an email from an old friend, a popular response to our Facebook status, a news update that makes us feel more connected with the world we live in. However the problem lies in seeking these highs: like addicts, we’re compelled to repeat these technology-reliant behaviours, even when they’re interfering with our social interaction, distracting us from our work, or simply wasting time.
I’m not telling you to throw your phone out the window, shun your tablet, smash your laptop – I don’t think you can survive university and organise your work and social life without technology – but what I am saying is think twice before you check your phone.
Check your phone if you’ve been out of contact for an extended period of time, if not, wait for it to alert you. Be disciplined with how often you log onto social networks – if you’re checking once in the morning and once in the evening, you’ll find not much happens in between. Check your email at the start of the day but don’t feel the pressure to reply instantly – expect that the recipient will check their email at the start of the day too, and may not see your reply until the next morning anyway. Be sceptical of apps that promise you trivial rewards – points, upgraded status or bonus features to unlock – as they’re capitalising off your dopamine addiction. Have faith in your social bonds without relying on Facebook notifications, Instagram likes and Twitter followers to fix you with a surge of serotonin. Think more deeply about why you feel compelled to get online, or to keep it simple, just think twice before checking your phone.