One night I retreated to a bubble bath with two books; a non-fiction and fiction, intending to read a chapter of each.
The non-fiction book discusses the very real 21st century problem of social media addiction, and how our mobile phones that facilitate it any time of the day become more essential to our state of mind than we'd ever imagine. It delivers evidence that this is actually similar to cocaine or sugar addiction, giving us feel-good dopamine fixes from instant approval whenever we check our likes or comments, and setting us up to check more frequently for the same pleasurable rush. We snatch up our phones the instant we hear a notification, then suffer because the constant fragmented attention from interrupting whatever we were doing is actually dumbing us down.
The book presents evidence that it takes almost half an hour to recover our concentration from such diversions, small and pleasurable as they may seem. We're too scattered to give books and articles the attention they deserve. We may be getting validation fixes, but they come at the cost of our cognitive capacity, for we were never meant to multi-task. In short, our egos may be purring but our IQs are being whittled down. And we get jittery and uneasy whenever we're separated from our phones for any length of time.
Whew, that wasn't news to me, because I've heard other people saying the same thing. My youngest son has just spent a lot time working on this very topic for his Year 11 Personal Project, and I proofread his work. Interesting, but sobering. It was time to move on to the fiction.
I'm re-reading bits of The Lord of the Rings after many years, and was up to the part early on when Gandalf the wizard arrives to tell Frodo Baggins that the Ring he'd inherited from his elderly relative Bilbo actually has a greater hold on him than anyone had imagined. It was the Dark Lord's own powerful ring, and anyone who possesses it, including Bilbo and its former owner Gollum, becomes supernaturally clingy and loathe to part with it. The Ring has a sinister influence of its own, and enabling its wearer to become invisible is just the start. If the owner doesn't take special care to use it sparingly or not at all, it erodes their personality and diminishes their personhood. The pathetic Gollum is a prime example.
Well, although I'd intended to change focus, I couldn't help noticing the unsettling similarity between the content in my two books. Was it a sign to consider my own relationship to my phone perhaps?
Like many other introverts, I'm a huge fan of our social media era. It's wonderfully opened up ways for the quietest among us to use our voices. I have some friendships based entirely on Instagram or blog feed, which are equally satisfying as other IRL relationships. Written encouragement is easier stored for future reference than impromptu chatter, so I'll never shut down my social media accounts or go full-on Chicken Little, madly deleting apps, as I've noticed some people doing. That seems to be really throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
But it behooves us to be aware of those subtle menaces to our brains and personalities if we don't use our phones and accounts thoughtfully. You won't find me joining, 'The phone is the enemy' crowd. I'm not into quests to throw it down the Cracks of Doom or anything that extreme, but I'm willing to make these concessions.
a) Put the phone away for long stretches at a time. If we are in another room and don't hear the merry tinkle of notifications, there are no urges to resist. I may even choose to leave it home sometimes, although I'm well aware it also contains my camera, time device and contact ability. These are other things we didn't seem to need to have on hand 24/7 in days gone by. (Update: And of course we now need them to scan QR codes at shops and businesses. Can't escape the way the 21st century is drifting us.)
b) Put a timer on, when it comes to soothing scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. If we purposely limit it to 30 or 45 minute blocks once or twice a day, we won't accidentally join the average of what I've read is 4 hours a day. (Whoa, what a phenomenal amount of time for doing essentially nothing!)
c) Be intentional about exercising my concentration muscles by deep reading of books and articles rather than skimming. I'm trying to get out of the habit of skimming my eye down an article to gauge whether or not it'll be relevant, then returning to the top if I decide the answer is yes. My aim is to save time, yet instead it just makes me a shallow skimmer consuming a lot of material in the same time I could read one decent article with full concentration. Do you have the same tendency? Did you give in the urge to skim this blog post? Haha, be honest, or you're only fooling yourself.
d) Take the perfectly curated, breathtaking posts and images of others with a grain of salt. I've observed others enough to know how much time and care it takes to set up those apparently impromptu shots. It's not my talent, so I'll stick to being genuinely impromptu, especially since I know the few seconds others take to admire is wildly disproportionate to the time it takes.
How about you? Have you had a go at battling this devious monster?