Stopping Cues for Technology

Adam Alter warns us in Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (Penguin Press). Many digital experiences are engineered to create psychological effects similar to those of drugs and can be seriously detrimental to our well-being over time.

On average, 41% of us harboring at least one behavioral addiction and the average smartphone user spending three hours a day on the device. Alter explains that we are spending more and more time on our screens (as opposed to the real world) because our screen time has no “stop cue” attached to it as it did in the past. Our natural stop cues have been eliminated, which forces us to rely on our own motivation and will-power which is exhausting!

We sleep less. Prior to electricity, the lack of artificial light meant people would go to bed and rise with the sun. We have lost the stop cue indicating we should go to bed and we are exhausted. Blue light also messes with your circadian rhythm, and its pings can awaken you after you’ve dozed off.

We eat more. When meals had to be cooked from scratch and took hours to prepare, the concept of snacking was almost nonexistent. We have lost the stop cue in our eating patterns and we are getting fatter.

We work constantly. Before the internet, when you left the office you simply couldn’t continue working as you had no access to your files etc. Now we are expected to be contactable day and night, and with computers and email you can access all of your work files at any time. We have lost the stop cue in our working life and we are extremely stressed.

We work inefficiently. Smart phones are one of the greatest inhibitors of our productivity by training our brains to be constantly distracted and condition us to stay in a state of divided attention.

We lose empathy and connection with others. Texting can be convenient, but we lose the inflections, tone, and facial expressions that are so key in our bonding with and understanding others. Having a smart phone in our line of sight causes us to pay less attention to the people we’re with and keep our conversations more superficial.

Here are some common-sense personal technology ground rules:

  1. Become a behavioral architect. An example of this is deciding that every time you eat dinner, no matter who you’re with, you’ll put your phone in another room, and ideally ask others to do the same.
  2. Place parameters around screen usage
  • Turn off all screens (phone, TV, iPads etc) at a set time (e.g. 9:30pm) every night.
  • No screen usage in a certain room in the house (e.g. bedroom, lounge room).
  • Don’t allow screen usage during certain activities (e.g. during meals, when having conversations with, well … anyone!)
  • Turn your phone onto airplane mode during certain times on the weekend.
  1. Carve out a period of the day that’s sacred. You want to make it automatic, so you don’t have to make a conscious decision every day. Like set a goal of sleeping for 8 hours a night.
  • Create a non-negotiable, non-working time during your week when you don’t check emails, take calls etc. Let your work colleagues know and stick with it.
  1. Imagine if someone said you had to be available and pay attention to them 24 hours a day—that’s ridiculous! So, spend a half hour learning about your phone’s settings. For a week, turn off all email notifications and see what happens. Do you miss out on really important things? a lot of people could be notified less than they are now and be happier for it.
  2. Utilize the timer on your phone / iPad for screen time. It’s fine to take some time out to read the newspaper, scroll through Facebook etc, but 5 minutes can quickly become an hour

The first step in breaking the smartphone habit is to measure how much time you’re actually spending on your phone throughout the day. Thanks to a few apps our there, auditing your smartphone use is pretty easy.

Auditing Apps Available

  • Both iPhone & Android
    • Checky – tracks how many times you’ve checked your smartphone a day.
    • Freedom – allows you to schedule distraction-free sessions in advance so you can create a Pomodoro schedule for yourself throughout the day.
  • Android Only
    • RescueTime – tracks how much time you spend on certain websites & apps.
    • QualityTime – tracks app usage and gives you detailed breakdowns
  • iPhone Only
    • Moment – gives you an overall look at how much time you spend on your phone.

Pick a tracking app and use it for a week or remove apps to make your smartphone dumber.

Remove apps that (1) don’t provide any significant improvement to your life and (2) encourage distracted thinking. How has checking Instagram every 10 minutes or beating another level on Candy Crush significantly improved your life? It probably hasn’t and if you want to be more focused and present you should get rid of them.

Ask yourself if the app you are thinking about removing significantly improve my life or is essential for work? And ask if the app gets in the of deep thinking. If your answers are ‘no’ to the first question and ‘yes’ to the second question, immediately delete the app. Games and social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat typically fall into this category.

You can also invest in a cell phone that looks like the one you owned back in 2001. By eliminating the ability to access apps on their phones, these retronauts eliminate the temptation to constantly check them.

  • Samsung Jitterbug
  • Nokia 106
  • Doro PhoneEasy

What if People Get Annoyed with Me if I Don’t Respond to Them Right Away?

Your big concern with turning off notifications and dumbifying your phone will likely be: “But I need to know as soon as I get an email or text. I’ve got to respond to it right away.” But this is mostly bull. Even in business, most email can wait an hour or two and if it’s truly urgent and important, or a genuine emergency, the person can just call you. The same goes for personal text messaging. You need to control your attention, rather than letting others control it.

Be the master of your technology, not its slave!

All ideas and insights are attributed to the following articles: