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Us millenials are addicted to our phones, and try as we might, the break away is almost impossible. However, what can work is limiting yourself

I always considered myself to be one of those people who wasn’t very dependent on her phone. I have fantasised about spending “phone free” days, where I put my device out of reach and do the same things my ancestors did to keep themselves occupied — read a book, work on my embroidery, watch TV without fast forwarding through the ads…

However, I’ve never actually gone through with this idea. Every time I think about doing it, I make vague excuses. What if someone’s trying to reach me? Nobody knows my landline number! What if I get hungry? How will I order food? What if I forget to drink water? There’s an app that reminds me to do it! (Yes, that’s right. I’m dependent on a little brick to help me with basic physiological needs now).

Why this dependency?

Recently, I realised I’ve been living in denial. I’m addicted to my phone. I know this because when I travel on work, I pack an extension cord with me so that I can have my phone by my side at night (you see, some hotels don’t have sockets by the bed, and God forbid I go to sleep without basking in the warm glow of my phone’s night mode).

What makes us so hooked to our devices? Research suggests that dopamine induced feedback loops could be the reason. Dopamine has the reputation of being one of the “fun” chemicals in the brain. It kicks in when you engage in activities that give pleasure and motivates you to seek out those activities more. It can hence promote addictions because of the anticipatory sense of pleasure people expect to gain from these activities.

Think about all the compulsive activities you do on your phone — checking for messages, scrolling through infinite social media feeds, feeling a small thrill when your count of “likes” go up, binge watching shows, playing games where you get a sense of satisfaction moving through levels…

All of these are thought to be reinforced by dopamine. Tech companies are increasingly looking to capitalise on this phenomenon to make their offerings more addictive to users. In fact, there is a growing concern that millennials are becoming heavily reliant on validation through social media, and treating these validations to be more intimate than they really are.

Our dependence on our virtual avatars is changing not just the way social interactions work, but also the kind of interactions we place value on, and the multitasking approach we take with our relationships. Often times, when I’m spending time with someone, I find myself being sucked into conversations — however small and fleeting — with other people not physically present around me, because I feel compelled to respond when they text me. Due to this, I’m never fully present in either conversation. This places a strain on relationships because the unspoken message I’m sending the other person is rather rude — “I don’t want to devote my full effort and attention on you or this discussion”.

Time for action

Now that we know what makes our phones addictive, how about we try to take back control? First, I for one am going to start by allocating an hour a day to stay away from my phone and actually remain immersed in face to face conversations. Second, I also disabled notifications from most apps so that I’m not constantly distracted by pings. Finally, and counter-intuitively, I’m also going to install a barrage of apps on my phone to track its usage — how often I lock/unlock it, how much time I spend on which types of apps and so on. If nothing else, hopefully the statistics will scare me into taking more drastic action!

The author is a psychologist and management consultant. krithvis@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 6:31:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/online-to-offline/article25461813.ece

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