Why we can’t put down our phones

I am addicted to my phone. There is no doubt about that in my mind. And this idea used to terrify me, so I used to deny it, but it is totally, absolutely, undeniably true. And it isn’t my fault, I swear! Let me tell you why.

Every single move we make online – Every. Single. Move – is monitored. How long you stop and hover over someone’s post on Instagram, whose story you always watch, how often you stalk your favourite ‘influencer’, the list goes on.

New Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, inspired me to write this piece (and covers the tech aspect in far more detail than I ever could) because I hadn’t realised that essentially, all of this information about our behaviours and habits online is fed directly into an algorithm, with little to no human supervision, which is intelligent enough to then serve you more of the same.

So, the more you linger on someone’s post, the more of their posts you’ll see. Every time that one person shares a story, it’ll be right at the top of your feed. And that influencer will be cropping up a lot more, too. And whenever one of these things happens, you’re dosed with a micro-hit of dopamine which feeds the addiction you don’t really believe that you have.

The sad fact here is, unless you have no form of social media or online footprint whatsoever, there is absolutely nothing you can do about what is done with your data. There is no setting you can switch off. These are the terms and conditions we all skimmed through without properly reading… oops.

But let’s face it, we’d have ticked it anyway, wouldn’t we? Because without social media? Well, we’re going to be lonely. Because the primary way we connect with each other right now is online. And this has never been more true than during this pandemic, when we have come to rely on our phones to connect with others more than ever.

The Social Dilemma put me into a weird headspace. I hadn’t realised how obsessed I am with my phone. Checking it, carrying it around the house aimlessly, feeling an overwhelming obligation to reply to every message that comes in and a compulsive urge to acknowledge every notification.

Ex-design ethicist at Google, Tristan Harris, describes the ‘see more posts’ function on social media as like a slot machine in Vegas. If you just enter one more chip, who knows what will happen. If you just have one more scroll of the latest posts, who knows what you’ll see.

You simply can’t help it, because that is how it has been designed. It’s like when someone says ‘I’ve got something to tell you’, and all you can think about is what that something might be. Social platforms are telling us, ‘I’ve got something to show you’, and we can’t resist the temptation.

The weird thing is, I’d never been hugely into technology before I started working for a creative tech agency. Naturally, since I’ve been there, my interest has been piqued massively, but I’m still a girl who likes a proper paper book and a watch with cogs and even watching the weather forecast instead of checking an app.

Yet because of clever engineers working for these huge global corporations and creating increasingly intelligent functions to keep us hooked, here I am writing this blog while stopping myself from picking up my phone because it just buzzed and usually, my hand is on that wake button before I even realise I’ve moved. And the ridiculous part is, I’m not even good at replying to messages! I just have an innate need to check them.

So, if like me, you’re feeling a little guilty or wary of your screen time and how much you may have come to rely on your device, fear not. Remember that lots of good can come from digital spaces and technology can make life tonnes easier for all of us in various ways – but also remember that accountability is key.

Ask yourself how long you’re spending on social media, and be honest. Check your stats – they won’t lie to you.

Ask yourself how much of what you see, you believe. How often do you share things you don’t know to be 100% true?

Ask yourself whether you really just like Instagram because you love to see what your friends are up to, or whether you’re zooming into that girl’s picture because surely she must have photoshopped it because wherethehellishercelluliteandstretchmarks?!

Again, like me, you’re probably not going to delete your social media accounts right this second. All those pictures and all those memories *sob*. It’s really hard to kick a habit – an addiction – especially one we’ve allowed to thrive for so long. But as entrepreneur Ludovic Tendron said, “Technology should be your servant, not your master.”

Wise words, Ludovic.

So use your phone and check your socials, sure. But don’t forget to take everything you see with a bucketful of salt, uninstall your apps for a few days if it all gets too much, and remember that there’s a big wide world sitting right outside the window.

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