Criticizing average citizens for being on their phones, heads tilted down and in their own digital world, isn’t an original action — people have been saying for years that we’re addicted to technology and that the impact spans our sex lives to social lives, and we’ve all seen the horror of Season 3, episode 1 of Black Mirror.
But I was looking around on the streetcar on my way to work today and saw everyone looking at their phones and it wasn’t a pretty picture to look at. I couldn’t tell if the man across from me was handsome because, with his head tilted down, I could only see his forehead and the bridge of his nose — he had a nice outfit on, though. Then, I was looking down the aisle and saw that virtually every person was looking at their phone except for an elderly lady who was looking at the people on their phones, unbeknownst to them, and I thought, “this must be so weird for her”.
Technology addiction isn’t just unhealthy, it’s sad and boring to be around.
Everyday life would be way cooler if humans would remember that they’re social beings. It’s significantly more interesting to be around people who are interested and engaged, and curious about the world around them. It would be passé to say that a digital life is an empty life, because of course there are some positive effects — faster communication, education and far-reaching exploration to name a few — but it would be nice to feel society in balance between real and digital life.
This digital anthropologist agrees with me, and they also posit that the best treatment for tech addiction isn’t to go cold turkey. In fact, changing our behaviour to swing back far in the opposite direction of mobile phones and social media, and email and so forth, wouldn’t be logical or sustainable. Technology isn’t going anywhere and it’s not all bad, society just needs to gain control of their behaviour so it can find healthy balance again.
The first step in healing an addiction is to name the problem: Our inability to look away, though that’s not entirely our fault.
Part of the reason our websites, apps, and devices feel so addictive is because they are designed to be that way. With business success measured in time-on-site and numbers of clicks, the cognitive biases that have been catalogued so diligently in the last decade have been mined for profit as what are called dark patterns. These are designs that trick people into spending more time interacting with a screen, from endless scrolling to auto-playing videos.
By using technology more consciously and developing a healthier relationship with our devices and apps, we can learn how to let them support our lives, rather than rule them. [link]
The next step in healing society’s tech addiction could be to start brainstorming new behaviours that will lead society back to balance to live healthily with technology.
The idea behind positive computing is to learn what aspects of technology discourage addictive behaviours, and which promote healthy habits. The antidote to constant engagement with screens is therefore not necessarily less screen time, but learning how to use technology in ways that increase happiness.
Here are the 4 legitimate ways to heal from tech addiction, straight from the mouth of a digital anthropologist and without going cold turkey:
1. Prioritize direct communication over indirect
It’s not the amount of Facebook activity but rather the quality of the activity that mattered most to users’ happiness levels. Pre-determined ways to express our views such as likes or emojis diminish that sense of connection and prompt us to spend more time consuming instead of considering and responding. [link]
2. Cultivating more creating, less consuming
Instead of simply consuming information on the internet, we should put time into creating our own. Curating Pinterest boards or crafting poetic Amazon reviews instead of scrolling through friends’ feeds or playing app games provides a greater sense of balance with technology: You are giving as well as receiving.
3. Leave mental white space
Designers have consciously conned us into a repetitive trap of swiping and refreshing. One way to counteract that cycle is to factor in a pause. Only allowing pop-up notifications from friends and family instead of ones from other apps is one way to get a little space.
From a design perspective, balancing positive and negative space within a technology experience can also give the user brief moments of respite. Some tech builds in stopping points, like Twitter’s While You Were Away feature, which lets you catch up without endlessly scrolling. Many websites, such as Medium, include reading time for each article, which gives a fair warning about the amount of attention required.
4. Minimize numbers
Nothing encourages an unhealthy relationship with social media or a Fitbit addiction like numbers: They program us to keep checking back on a post or device without ever feeling quite satisfied. To counter this constant reach for more steps, restore the missing context by balancing tallies with the act of journaling offline or on apps like Mood Notes. Social apps can also help us out by scaling back on the emphasis on numbers, too. For instance, Slack’s desktop app doesn’t quantify notifications.
While I don’t expect every guy on the streetcar to be phone-free and looking around, society would be more balanced if there were at least a few. Plus, it would increase the chances of us catching each other’s eye and falling madly in love and that would be pretty cool.