Trying to break free of the constant lure of your smartphone could make you feel like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Part III”: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Bill Johnson tried taking a break. The 46-year-old sales director from Marion, Iowa, stopped using social media for 30 days, and it was eye-opening: Johnson read books, tackled his to-do list and discovered a knack for cooking.
But then he slowly re-introduced social media in his life, “and guess what? I started spending too much time on it again.”
Johnson’s giving social media abstinence another shot – this time for 90 days.
Aditya Rao has also found it hard to kick the habit: “I gave up completely on smartphones, and the experience for me was tougher than quitting cigarettes.”
Is it possible to unplug from the Matrix? And really, would you even want to?
Machines instead of humans
The smartphone most of us are fixated on is the most obvious affront to an age when folks looked each other in the eye rather than at some screen. But it’s not alone.
Consider how often you interact with or seek customer service from a robot or machine, as opposed to a human. And it may get worse through the expansion of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and eventually next-generation 5G wireless networks.
Disturbing signposts have been apparent for a few years, like when your bank charges a fee because you have the audacity to engage with a human teller rather than the ATM.
Still, many of us, whether willingly or reluctantly, are all in on digital – to bank, invest, shop, make travel plans, get directions, get answers, get news, play games, consume entertainment, check grades and homework, and, yes, connect and socialize. It may only be a small exaggeration to suggest that you talk to Alexa, Google or Siri more often than you do your life partner.
The potential dark side of digital
Technology facilitates progress and convenience, sure.
But there’s a potentially darker side to our all-too-frequent digital-only interactions: loss of privacy, loss of dignity, less frequent face-to-face human contact, more data breaches and security threats.
A recent Identity Threat Assessment and Prediction report from the University of Texas at Austin showed that of all the consequences experienced by victims of breaches –including financial loss, property loss and reputation damage – a whopping 80% of victims reported emotional distress.
Meanwhile, many young people especially have been drowning in the distress caused by social media.
“There is huge concern these days about the potential impact of social media and 24/7 tech use on today’s teens, including linking social media use to technology addiction, the decay of in-person social skills, and multiple harms to kids’ mental well-being,” says James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a non-profit advocacy group for kids and families.
Jake Sahadi, now 26, got hooked on social media at 13, first through MySpace and in later years, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “This really did halt my life in terms of reaching my full potential,” he says. “I suffered from bad grades all throughout high school and didn’t make it that far in college. I had no sense of prioritizing since all I wanted to do was be online.”
Sahadi, who lives in the metro Detroit area, recently cut back his social media to no more than five minutes per day and, with his newfound time, has taken on leather crafting and hiking and will also be returning to college this fall.
Still, a complete societal disconnect from tech doesn’t seem plausible.
“Few serious commentators think we’d be better off retreating to an earlier technological age. But at the same time, people are tired of feeling like they’ve become a slave to their devices,” writes Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport in “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.”
Newport’s book helped motivate Sahadi, Johnson, Rao and numerous others attempt to dial back their smartphone and social media usage. Among his recommendations is to start from scratch and remove from your devices all the apps “from companies that make money from your attention.”
Determine which ones are important and why, he says, and then dispose of the stuff that doesn’t really matter.
“It’s essentially cleaning out your closet, except it’s your phone.”
Even if you’re not ready to give up Facebook say full-time – you may have sound reasons to periodically visit a community group, for example – Newport urges people to remove the app from your phone and only check the social network from a computer browser. That little bit of added friction can make a big difference.
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