Yes, you heard me right. I asked whether you are capable of disconnecting…from your smartphone, PC, laptop, tablet, or mp3 player! I realize that is a shocking and perhaps heretical suggestion in a time when most people are connected 24/7. I’m not saying that you have to be thoroughly disconnected; that’s not realistic in today’s digital world.

My basic premise is this: Are you a master of technology in which you use it as a tool to enhance the quality of your life? Or are you addicted to your technology such that it actually hurts the quality of your life?

And when I say ‘addicted,’ I don’t just mean psychologically. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that overuse of technology has the same neurochemical effects—a shot of dopamine, our bodies’ way of rewarding us—as do addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling.

Here’s a simple test:

  • Do you check your phone before you get out of bed in the morning?
  • Do you compulsively check your phone during the day?
  • Are you in front of a screen or do you wear an earbud or headphones more often than not?
  • Do you send and receive emails and text messages during meals, while socializing, or during exercise?
  • Do you get anxious or depressed when you are disconnected?
  • Do you panic if you can’t find your phone?
  • Is your technology always within arm’s reach every moment of the day?
  • Is checking your phone the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?

If you answered ‘yes’ to most or all these questions, you are probably addicted to your technology. And this addiction is probably not doing you any favors in your emotional, social, physical, or professional lives.

The question is: What are you going to do about it? As with any addiction, the longer you are connected, the more difficult it is to break the habit. You can either succumb to your technology addiction and do your best to minimize the harm it may cause you. Or you can take the first step toward recovery and say, “My name is so-and-so and I’m a technology addict.”. But that statement is pretty easy to make because talk is cheap and easy, but action isn’t.

Consider the many benefits that you would accrue by disconnecting from the ‘Matrix.’ You would have more free time that would be otherwise spent in front of a screen or wired to a gadget. You would spend more quality time with your family and friends, which, in the hectic life you probably lead, everyone would welcome. You would be able to have more experiences that are enriching and just plain fun. Your family and friends would also be less frustrated and angry with you because you wouldn’t be checking your email, text messages, Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, or the latest news while they were trying to have a conversation with you. The cumulative effect would be closer and stronger relationships with the people you care about most and deeper engagement in the activities that you enjoy most.

You would be less stressed because you would have more time to devote to your work or studies. You would be more active, which would give you more energy, you’d be in better shape, and you’d feel more physically attractive. You would sleep better because you wouldn’t be staying up late checking your Facebook pages, tweeting banalities, or playing online games.

A friend of mine who decided to break his addiction on technology told me that the benefits were immediate and substantial. He was much more creative because he was liberated from the technological box he was imprisoned in. He found other more rewarding ways to entertain himself. He was able to immerse himself deeply in tasks, whether working out, reading, or having a conversation with others. He also noticed his attention span grew longer as he limited his use of technology. The big thing was that, much to his surprise, he was just plain happier.

A mother I know decided to go cold turkey with her family’s technology because of the lack of real daily connection she had with her children. They established a six-month moratorium on technology in their home; no television, no computers, no mobile phones, no video-game consoles, no Internet (although her children were allowed access to screens at friends’ houses and at school). She was prepared for a rebellion from her children, but, surprisingly, there wasn’t one. After a short period of some complaining, her children actually embraced their family’s non-tech lifestyle.

Their family had meals together more frequently, talked more than ever before, and shared many wonderful activities together. Her children were faced with boredom and found ways to overcome it without the crutch of technology. They rediscovered things that they had once enjoyed doing, including reading, cooking, and playing a musical instrument. Even after the six-month vacation from technology ended, their family maintained many of the habits they had developed during the break. The older siblings rarely visit their Facebook pages, the son actually sold his video-game console so he could buy a saxophone, and the youngest continues to study in the library, where social networking isn’t allowed.

If cold turkey isn’t your cup of tea, you could gradually wean yourself off of technology. You can start with small limits, such as no technology at the dinner table or not bringing your phone with you when you exercise. As you become accustomed to the limits that you’ve set, you can slowly increase those boundaries. For example, you can progress to no Internet after 9 pm. You can then move to establishing no-tech days, such as on Saturdays, and no-tech socializing in which you turn off your phone’s ringer and notifications. Your goal is to have unnecessary technology (remember it can still be used as a tool for work, school, and daily functioning) be the exception rather than the rule in your life, something that is used but not needed and, ultimately, something that has no real influence over your lives.

Disconnecting may not be easy for you, depending on the extent to which technology is currently present in your lives. You’ve gotten accustomed to that shot of dopamine when your phone pings or vibrates. The idea of having to entertain yourself may seem pretty daunting. It’s likely that you will be tempted to sneak a peak at your phone or open you laptop even when there is really no compelling reason. That’s okay as you’re human and you’ll have relapses as you break your technology addiction. But, if you’re stay committed, after a short period of adjustment, I believe that you will find that the benefits that you gain from disconnecting regularly will far outweigh any costs that you may incur.

7 COMMENTS

  1. > Do you check your phone before you get out of bed in the morning?
    Phones plural. Yes.
    > Do you compulsively check your phone during the day?
    Almost nonstop with breathers to look at computer screens.
    > Are you in front of a screen or do you wear an earbud or headphones more often than not?
    Headset, but it’s part of my job. At home I use the speakers but keep it low so that I can hear my wife coming up to my “study.” So for the sake of this self-diagnosis I’ll just say yes.
    > Do you send and receive emails and text messages during meals, while socializing, or during exercise?
    Exercise? Too busy being obsessed with the phones.
    > Do you get anxious or depressed when you are disconnected?
    I honestly don’t know because I’ve never experimented being without at least one phone and spare battery on me at all times, with rare exception to an expensive dinner and taking showers, though other bathroom activities are fair game.
    > Do you panic if you can’t find your phone?
    I panic just at the notion that I might lose either of my phones getting out of a cab, especially my company phone. That would be bad. You know what would really freak me out? Mildly diminishing eyesight within the next few years. That, and clusters of holes. That messes with my head. Explain that one to me Jim.
    > Is your technology always within arm’s reach every moment of the day?
    Not only that, I spend the overwhelming majority of my waking hours staring at one screen or another (or six at once on my home battlestation, not counting flipping over to the phones while at the battlestation).
    > Is checking your phone the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?
    How did you guess.

    > If you answered ‘yes’ to most or all these questions, you are probably addicted to your technology.
    Probably? That’s the best you can do for me Doc?

    > And this addiction is probably not doing you any favors in your emotional, social, physical, or professional lives.
    Certainly not helping my marriage or encouraging me to go hang out with my friends, but now we finally have an exception as being obsessed with being connected and having a job requiring constantly being connected, which many of us reading this do, is the overlap that would rule this whole thing out as the definition of a disease (in my case) as it not only does not significantly impair me from functioning in society it is indeed a key for me to be able to do that. Lots of downsides with the addiction, and it’s definitely an obsession, but I don’t know how else I’d make an all right living if I weren’t the way I am. Having said that, I should exercise more than just a few miles which I did for my first anniversary with my wife as her wedding gift.. what, why are you looking at me like that.

    > The question is: What are you going to do about it?
    Even if I wanted to and didn’t have this sort of job I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I quit smoking cold turkey, piece of cake, but this notion just ain’t in the cards.

    > take the first step toward recovery and say, “My name is so-and-so and I’m a technology addict.”. But that statement is pretty easy to make
    Actually I disagree with that. I find that a kind of bizarre and socially peculiar thing to just stand up and say.

    Argh now you’ve got me thinking about trypophobia.

  2. Yes to all of them and I also hold multiple phones always. I want to disconnect from tech sometimes and I lasted without tech for few weeks while I was in India, but nothing has changed. I am emotionally cool and socialized more without tech. But once i am back to US, thing change as soon as I enter my car in the Airport. :D

  3. Yes to a few. I panic when I am disconnected, but only because I don’t know when I will be connected again. Sort of like when the power goes out and the Utility company (that I need to call with my cell phone) has no idea it’s even off. And I want to know where my phone is at all times, more from a practical point of view. So it’s not about to fall of a ledge I left it on, or next to a beer that’s about to be spilled.

    I consider my technology obsession more a hobby than anything else. Some people play golf, which is admittly more healthy, but not necessarially more relaxing. I browse. I enjoy having the answer when troubled, frazled tech users have a question. In many cases, I am saving them time and anxiety, so they can spend more time enjoying life. So I am providing a public service ina sense.

    I hate being controlled by any habit or obsession. Over the past year I have caught myself staring at my phone or PC screen while my nephew was trying to tell me about his day, or something interesting. I recognized this as problem, and now I stop what I am doing, listen and engage in the converstation. I can get back to where I left off later. Drinking too much water can kill you. Everything in moderation.

  4. @Doug: A great chuckle as usual. I don’t suggest that your work is part of the addiction. In that case, you are using tech as a tool to maximize the value of your work (in your case, tech is your work). I have no problem with that.

    Nothing is really a problem unless it hurts the quality of your life, your physical or mental health, or your relationships.

    And I’m not advocating total disconnection, just using tech to do your job, live your life, and, if it gives you jollies, for some entertainment.

    Gosh, I’m totally connected in my professional life (I also couldn’t do what I do with it), but I only use tech in my personal life as, yes, a tool and I make sure I disconnect whenever I can, e.g., exercising, with friends, with my family.

  5. It had been way too long since the last Psychology of Technology write-up! Thank you for your time Dr. Jim Taylor

  6. Thanks, Camilo, I appreciate your kind words. I am blogging on many different topics these days, but I return to my love of technology as often as I can.

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