Resisting the irresistible...
With a few weeks off work recently, I found myself with plenty of time to dive into a number of books I'd been wanting to read for a while. Amongst those that I picked up, there was one that has resonated with me more than all of them.
In fact, probably more than any book I've read.
You may have come across it yourself - Irresistible by Adam Alter.
For as long as history records detail, people have been addicted to substances for thousands upon thousands of years, but the last two decades has presented a new form of addiction, a behavioural addiction, that will impact our existence and our future in ways that could never have been anticipated. As we continue to move through this ever-increasing digital world, we're becoming increasingly hooked on technology and this book sets out to take a detailed look at the frightening patterns and outcomes of doing so. Everyone has to read it.
I'm not here to preach. And I appreciate the (possibly) perceived hypocrisy and irony of writing about this topic (as partner in a digital business, typing on my laptop via online networking platform LinkedIn). But I wanted to capture some thoughts and takes from the book that I plan to implement in my life, which I figured may be of relevance to some of you.
In a nutshell, whilst technology has made our lives more connected, efficient and easier than we could ever have asked for, it's also making us increasingly isolated, distracted, absent from the moment and depressed. We increasingly sleep less, talk in-person less, focus less and enjoy the small things in life less.
My life is a shining example of the truth in the words of the book and the real danger of such addiction. And I wanted to quickly capture three key areas, concluding with a few tips for what I'm doing (well, trying to do) moving forward in a bid to curb my 'addiction'.
Depression and anxiety
I can trace the unravelling and pinnacle moments of my depression around the time I was 20. Appreciating that it's a tough age for a young man regardless, it also happens to coincide with the time I got MySpace - the first of the modern social platforms that now dominate majority of our lives. Setting aside the ability to connect with friends in a way that had never been possible, this was the beginning of my obsession of needing to present myself in the best light. The obsession over what photos to post, what to write about myself, and what to post on others' walls. This was the beginning of everything about 'me' being put on show and everything becoming a popularity game. It was also the beginning of observing how 'amazing' everyone else's life was (even though they were doing exactly what I was).
The enhancement and evolvement of these platforms has only made it worse, notably for the younger generations who have no idea of what life was before these platforms existed. The addition of 'likes, shares, comments' metrics have only tapped into our growing and impatient needs for immediate recognition, feedback and... well, bullshit.
The rise of depression and anxiety illnesses in modern times is obviously no coincidence, and whilst I could write on this subject for hours (and pages), I think my point is made.
Demise of meaningful relationships
On top of the impact of technology to our mental health, the ability to talk to people behind a keyboard (coinciding with the rise of smartphones, messenger apps and free texting), helped ensure I stopped creating meaningful relationships. I also stopped needing to actually witness how my words impacted other people because I couldn't see their face (there is nothing more telling in communication than the look on someone's face in response to what you've said or done).
The immediacy of modern communication allows us to fire off our thoughts (and gut reactions) almost as quick as they come to mind. With the demise of face-to-face contact, will come the demise of one of the more special characteristics that come with being human - empathy. Coinciding with algorithms written into the code of almost every piece of online content, we'll constantly be served information that only backs up our thoughts and opinions (because that's what we respond to). We'll lose our ability to understand someone else's point of view, or appreciate the context of where they may be coming from.
Combine that with the ability to immediately broadcast what we think we have to say in an unlimited number of public stages, and you have a recipe for disaster... I've lost many a friend and a lot of respect for failing to step away from the keyboard (and have also become increasingly more anxious over time for meeting people face to face). This topic is similarly covered by many, and for me presents the biggest danger for our futures.
Never being in the moment
Technology allows us to access pretty much everything at any time we want. Most modern digital products and services are developed to deliver the path of least resistance - ensuring we come back quickly and repetitively. And whilst there are huge advantages to being able to do this, like everything, we take it for granted. We mind numbingly waste so much time returning to 'it' when we don't actually need 'it' just because we've no idea how to cope with our own boredom or the time in-between moments.
For years, I got home from work and sat on the couch watching TV whilst scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter... or similarly disappeared down an internet black hole for no real beneficiary reason. I wasn't researching, I wasn't actually interested in what others had done with their days. I just had lost the ability to be present in a moment and needed to be 'doing something'. I stopped reading books, I stopped talking to family, I stopped writing.
This mindless and incredibly anti-social behaviour than extended to outside of the home - sitting for dinner at a restaurant, at the pub watching the footy with mates. Shit, even crossing the road after waiting for the lights. Then on top of that, in almost every holiday I've been on, I've never left my laptop behind, and most certainly never turned off my phone.
And whilst I would tell myself it's because I needed to stay on top of what was going on (both work wise and social wise), it had nothing to do with that. I'd just lost the complete ability (and still not very good at it), in being able to enjoy the moment that was in front of me. To absorb the moment in front of me. And to be completely honest, I genuinely think that in doing so has had a huge impact on my memory and recall of it.
People always talk about how life is going so much quicker, but I can only think that's because we've lost our ability to live in the moment. We're always living in another world and living for the next big thing (which makes me stop and think about the impact Virtual Reality is actually going to have on our lives).
So what am I actually doing about it...
It's so easy to have good intentions. And to write those intentions down with so much belief that you're actually going to do them. But, in all seriousness, I think that intentions surrounding the use of technology need to be pursued, because it's scary to think of where we are all headed because of what are no doubt unintended consequences of living in a more connected world.
But I want to be happy. I want real, deep and rewarding relationships - personal and professional. I want to live in the moment and remember the detail. I'm not saying technology is bad, but like everything in life, it's all in moderation. And my mdoeration is very unbalanced. So I've made a few new rules for myself that I've listed below (and will hopefully continue to add to). It won't be easy, but it will be necessary.
I've removed social media from my mobile phone (except for Instagram).
I've used WasteNoTime on my computers to restrict me to 5 minutes a day on a number of websites that are renowned for wasting my time (you can add as many as you want).
I place my phone and laptop downstairs in the study from 8.00pm at night, not to be touched until the next day (phone left on loud however in case it does ring and it's an important).
I charge my phone and laptop in the study and leave it in their overnight, not to be touched until I leave for work.
I don't take my phone to the gym, I don't take my phone into meetings, I don't leave the phone on the table at lunch or dinner.
During the week, I turn the TV off at 10pm and (try) read for half an hour before bed.
One of the best insights into human behaviour is that if you make the path to a certain behaviour just a little hard (or harder), we're unlikely to do it. So keeping technology just out of reach (i.e. in another room) can go a long way.
Have you any rules? Any tips? If so, I'd love to hear them.