Dearly beloved readers,
If you believe that your phone is not addictive and does not affect your posture, then this is not the blog for you. If you’re willing to open up your mind and learn, then I encourage you to come on this ride with me, reconsider your phone habits, and straighten yourself out (pun intended).
Personally, I believe we are all doing our best at all times. We will have times we are not open to making any sort of change, and oftentimes we stay there longer than we mean to by not acknowledging an issue. The goal of this blog is not to imply that you need to change. After all, change is always a personal decision. Instead, the goal of this blog is to educate and entertain, per my usual. I am a proud, recovering phone junky.
Nowadays, I set myself up for a successful day in the morning by abstaining from using my phone and not getting sucked into the social media doom scroll on the regular. Even now, I’m writing this blog as I sip my coffee, instead of trolling social media.
Twice upon a time, I went to Australia.
The first visit was for a work trip, and gave me great material for my comedy routine, (for your post-blog indulgence). The second trip was 100% for me to just have fun.
The reason I brought up this trip specifically? Well, the second trip was notable to me for one reason: I was halfway across the world, on an incredible Instagram worthy dream vacation. and there I was. On. My. phone.
During my vacation, I was on the beach in Port Eliot. I was with a friend I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. I was meeting his family for the first time. The seasons are reversed in Australia, so I was enjoying summer in the middle of winter. Amazing landscapes and breath-taking views of the ocean.
And yet, instead of enjoying it, I hid in my room to be on my phone. See, this was the first time we had WIFI, so like an ostrich, I stuck my head deep into my phone instead of hanging out and catching up with the people around me. Forget that I was on a once in a lifetime vacation;
what’s happening in cyberspace?
I looked up from my phone enough times to notice the amazing views and to take a million pictures to show everyone else. However, looking back, I wasn’t present or enjoying the trip in the moment. The saddest part was that it never even occurred to me that I could put my damn phone down and actually look at the things I was taking pictures of. Maybe even enjoy a few moments of awe-struck wonder as I took in the sites. Part of the reason I was so engrossed in my phone was because I wanted to show everyone what a great time I was having. For me, this sharing was a means to fill my loneliness and shame in return for the validation of those Facebook likes. I cringe as I reflect on my second trip to Australia. All I can think is:
How much did I miss?
The saddest part is that I can’t even tell you all the amazing things I missed on that vacation because I was in my phone instead of living my life. The only times I managed to put down my phone, after much grumbling, was when there was no WIFI. And even then, I kept it close to keep snapping pics and videos and thinking about the future validation yet to come from showing off my highlight reel on social media. Not having WiFi gave me the opportunity to pet some kangaroos and repeatedly get wasted.
What about you?
I’ll raise my hand:
it’s happened to me too. I’m guilty.
In fact, several friends are probably laughing and thinking:
Finally! She’s becoming self aware! There’s one friend in particular - you know who you are - that I need to speak to for a minute:
thank you for loving me through the phone absorption days when everyone commented about how rude I was for not looking up long enough to engage in conversation. Another trip to see that friend stands out in my mind too. I went over on a weekend visit when living in somewhat close proximity to her.
I was so notoriously bad about my phone, that she actually had to make me promise that I wouldn’t use it while I was there. Well, that’s not entirely true, as I could use it before going to bed when we were done socializing.
Let me tell you, it was hard to stay off my phone. As a former smoker, I equated it to the same level of resistance to that of someone fresh off cigarettes, and the white-knuckling fight to resist the all-consuming idea of another puff.
Only this time it was my phone and not cigarettes.
I needed my social media fix! Gah! Queue the detox shakes.
Kidding on the DT shakes. It’s more along the lines of withdrawal and feeling like you forgot your wallet.
The thing I remember most is how difficult it was to stay present.
I also kept wondering what I was missing out on in the phone realm.
For those of you who look down at your phone all day,
did you know there’s a new diagnosis called Tech neck?
If you felt some discomfort or found similarities with your own behavior, keep reading. This blog is for you. And if you’re ready for another uncomfortable question:
Where do you put your phone when you sleep?
The closer your phone is to you when you sleep, the worse your sleep quality will be. Let that sink in.
So much happens in our world each and every day, both in the physical world and the cyber world:
For many of us, myself included, it feels we can often get dragged it discussing and focusing solely on the cyber world when we are together in the physical world.
There is a lot of science behind why we are compelled to stay in our phones.
Per my usual, this is not going to be a ton of time on the dry toast facts.
Suffice it to say: your phone is programmed to hook you, addict you, and keep your attention for as long as possible.
If you want an easy way to start your own research, I suggest you watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix.
This documentary provides a detailed understanding of why we get sucked into our phones and social media.
Two words for you: Persuasive Software.
Social media brought about a new means of interaction. We became the thing for advertisers to try to pull in and encourage clicks.
Undeniably, social media does have a lot of positive effects.
Now, we can instantly get into contact with people who have moved far away whom we haven’t had a chance to meet up with since high school or college graduation. Social media has allowed people to find and connect with long lost friends and relatives. Numerous other things were made possible by social media: dating, shopping, gifting, and even making money.
Conversely, by exploiting human psychology the artificial intelligence behind social media also feeds in to tell us where to spend time online. Media now has the ability to create addictions by hacking into our brains. These games and apps are legit created with addiction in their code.
Code writers and big thinkers in tech still find themselves susceptible to the call of their phones, despite the fact they know exactly how the tech is designed and what that tech is designed to do. Social media exploits our base needs. We are social animals and the software built into social media applications hijacks our need for acceptance, love, and connection.
Despite all my years in Cybersecurity and knowing how software can be exploited, I still found The Social Dilemma jaw dropping. I know very well how software can be exploited, but seeing the extent to which software can be programmed to exploit the user? That was completely contradictory to me. The level of control that apps have on our lives blew my mind.
As social media grew, we started to fixate on it as a means of controlling how we are perceived by others. This is an instinct we have, just FYI. So, some of us spend more time and energy into making our profiles look amazing, life changing, and Instagram-worthy to all of our online friends and the world. Sometimes, we can even focus more on the digital world than the actual world around us.
Much like what I did in Australia:
For many of us, these changes happened so slowly, or we grew up with them as the norm, so we often do not even see it happening until it's too late
And by then you have been sucked into the vortex of social media mind control. Like all of you, I have been sucked into the vortex as well. However, I have pulled myself out of it to a degree.
Two events stand out in particular that really assisted in my breaking my social media addiction:
1: When I was disabled, the sheer volume of anger, hatred, and negativity on social media was so high that I could not physically withstand the constant negativity barrage.
2: During a plant medicine ceremony, I took a vow of silence and gave up my phone for the 3-day retreat.
When I was disabled, the act of reading hate speech or watching my friends online-battle one another made my pain levels go up. My level of pain at that point was already so high that it was unbearable.
So I took action.
First, I unfollowed all the polarizing pages and people. For example, I stopped my feed from showing me all of the angry posts about cannabis laws, all the focus on the unfairness in the world.
Second, I unfollowed all the people who only shared their own drama or posted with the intent of pissing people off and seeing how they would react.
Then, I stopped watching the regular news and started to follow a news source full of good news.
Finally, I prioritized the people and feeds that made me smile.
Once all those negative and polarizing things were invisible to me, I very quickly felt the impact in the slower ebbs and flows of my pain levels. I also saw changes in myself, as my temper wasn’t yanked around and triggered nearly as much. Empowered,
I started to change my social media behavior completely. Now,
when checking my social media, I look at my notifications first. Then I look at the first few items in my feed. Sometimes, I’ll check on a friend’s page to see what they’re up to. More often however, I will just reach out to that friend directly to catch up.
Mind you, there are side effects to this approach. There are times when I miss a lot, especially when it comes to ‘announcements’ and new pictures.
I’m also okay with that, I have literally lost no level of value or quality to my life by opting out of the Facebook antics of any given day.
In fact, I would say that by making these changes, I drastically increased my quality of life.
One way I have started to cope with missing certain things and spending less time on social media is by putting people’s birthdays in my calendar so I don’t have to rely on Facebook.
During my first ceremony, the vow of silence and three day break from all technology forced me to go without a phone for three days.
On the day we had to hand in our phones, I clutched my phone tightly until they asked us to turn them in. I smiled as I handed in my phone, even though it felt like I’d chopped off a piece of myself.
The second feeling after turning in my phone was that I’d walked off a cliff. By surrendering my phone, I gave up the constant barrage of social media, text notifications, music, and games. All that was left was my journal and me.
For three whole days.
My first whole day of silence was exceptionally hard on me. I desperately wanted to text my best friends about what I had learned during ceremony.
I wanted hugs, and comforting words. I cried. A lot.
I threw pity party after pity party for myself in between naps and writing.
By day three, I was basking in the silence, feeling amazing. By this time, I was smiling at the deep blue sky, breathing in the fresh air while laying in the hammock on the porch of my cabin.
Finally, there I was, in a gorgeous setting, and completely at peace.
My tears of grief stopped flowing and my feelings of gratitude and love went way up.
When we were given back our phones, I surprised myself. While happy to get my phone back, I wanted to be present and aware of what was happening around me. When someone came over to talk to me, I put my phone down and stayed present in the experience.
That first ceremony, coupled with the changes I made when pain levels were exceptionally high, helped me break the worst of the addictive phone habits. Now, I spend more time in nature.
These days, when I’m on hikes or camping trips and I lose signal, it’s a welcome change and an opportunity to sit in silence and take in the beauty of nature. A side effect is that I now seek out more in the physical world and experience things first hand, rather than through a filter in the world within my phone.
It’s a welcome change and I’m glad to have come this far.
In fact, as I write this it reminds me that I'm overdue for a phone break. I plan to take another this weekend.
Letting go of all the cyber chatter is exactly what I need to ensure my body feels more calm; even when considering the amount of silence I’ll experience. As I re-read the word silence, my face curved into a smile.
When my mind starts racing, I take a hike where I can breathe in all the goodness of the world, to hear myself. I do still take my phone for emergencies, tracking, and looking at trails or maps. That said, I don’t take my headphones with me, so it’s just me, nature, and my thoughts and ideas.
Hiking has become an active meditation for me.
Some tips that The Social Dilemma provided that I think are helpful to start pulling yourself away from your device of choice.
The following tips worked for me:
Do not click on the Recommended videos or items
This helps to train the algorithm and trick you into staying sucked in longer.
Modify your feeds for less polarizing topics
Find places and things you would like to do in the real world.
What do you like doing? Hiking? Swimming? Boating? What piques your interest?
Turn off all social media notifications.
What other notifications can be silenced? Personally, I only keep one audible alert on my phone.
For everyone else, audible alerts are shut off to avoid distraction. Guess what?
No one has given me grief for doing so.
Take small breaks from your phone to get used to it.
Start with 20 minutes at a time and build up from there.
Limit your time on social media.
You can use your phone settings, or the app itself to limit your time on social media. My main use is to post things for my business, and sometimes on my personal page too. I’ll check on friends, and I catch myself quickly if I’m doing something that’s not healthy for me. I focus on the various groups I’m in that are set up in order to support something I’m doing in real life.
Know Your Limits
What is a reasonable amount of time to spend on the apps you use? Are you willing to spend 3 hours per day on Instagram? Are you willing to sink an hour every morning before work on Facebook? Decide what you want your limits to be, set them, stick to them, and forgive yourself if it takes you some time to wean off the social media addiction train.
Know Your Patterns
What apps do you tend to get involved in the most? What apps tend to drag you into a state where you’re drowning in tech neck?
Almost all cell phones have the ability to track your screen time. You can use this to evaluate your time, whether you feel it’s being well spent, and if you want to continue to spend x hours per day on your app of choice. Then, you can set limits for yourself and figure out what you want to spend.
My readers know that I’m someone who tries experiments on myself before having others give it a try. So, this week, I enabled screen-time monitoring on my phone while writing this blog. I am averaging less than three hours per day.
This experiment and conscious focus has made me more conscious of picking up my phone, and my triggers to pick it up versus doing something else.
Set specific goals
Overall, my screen time was productive and positive. For me, that means I set up meetings, worked toward my business goals, or texted with friends who mean a lot to me.
Of that three hours, one hour was spent on social media. The bulk of my time on social media is focused on my business, so I’m okay with an hour a day.
Just knowing that I am monitoring myself has been incredibly motivating.
Currently, my goal is to alter my social media time from 75% business to about 95% business.
Be Mindful of how much you change
It may not be a good idea to change everything all at once. If you spent 4 hours per day on YouTube, it might be unrealistic to cut it down to 1 hour in the span of a day. Be realistic and compassionate with yourself.
Set realistic goals, like reducing your YouTube time by 1 hour per week, and 15 minutes per day until you reach your goal.
It's your time. Spend it doing what you want.
Yes, I’m fully willing to admit that I can still get caught up and distracted by my phone. However, my habits are much better now and so are my in-person relationships. My conversational skills are also pretty good, if I do say so myself. Now, my phone is a source that feeds the conversation rather than the thing keeping me from the conversation.
Each time you reflect, I want you to remember to be the observer and not the judge. The purpose of this is not to sentence yourself for life. The purpose is to notice your actions and change your relationship to those actions without judgment.
So, again, I ask you:
Don’t keep reading: I mean it. Reflect on and answer the questions above. If you find yourself reluctant to answer, ask yourself why.
On several occasions, I’ve alluded to the fact I suffered from severe chronic pain. My years of unchecked stress and lack of self care finally caught up to me in the form of debilitating pain. I have discovered many life changing things during my journey away from chronic pain. One lesson is that we can become addicted to our pain, to the story about our pain, and what the pain gives us.
Next week, we will explore how and why we can become addicted to our pain, what that provides us, methods to identify that tendency in yourself, and how to overcome it.