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Beating My Biggest Addiction

November 2, 2017

It's a scary thing to recognize and truly admit to yourself that you are addicted to something. You move along in your life, believing that you have complete control over yourself and your actions, and then it dawns on you that, in fact, you don't. This addiction limited my ability to get lost in my projects, to problem-solve effectively, and to feel the passage of time in a natural way.


While the reality of my smartphone addiction has been slowly dawning on me over the last year or two, it was only in the last couple of weeks that I truly came to terms with it and decided to do something about it. I can truly say that I began noticing the problem on my own, but a TED Talk by Manoush Zomorodi (1) and part of an episode of the podcast Pantsuit Politics (2) really sparked it for me. Manoush Zomorodi gives empirical and anecdotal information in her talk, citing a study for which people downloaded a monitoring app on their cellphones and clocked an astonishing average of 700 phone pickups per day.


After listening to that TED talk, I knew I had to do something. I started working on it, attempting to consciously avoid picking up my phone unless I had a real reason to do so like sending/answering a text or looking up something specific. It was very difficult at first, and I was horrified by the number of times that I caught myself reaching for my phone out of sheer boredom, social discomfort, or when I reached a hard place in a problem of any kind. But over several days, I noticed real change in the way my brain worked when it came to problem-solving, boredom, and a host of other things. I listened to the above-mentioned episode of Pantsuit Politics after a few days of conscious work, and was inspired to download the app they talked about. I decided to download the app out of sheer curiosity about the number of times that I pick up my phone and how much time I spend on it. I've had the app for several days now, and although I'm glad I didn't have it during the first few days of struggle over letting go of my habit, I find it interesting to have real numbers to compare on a day-to-day basis.


Based on purely observational and subjective evidence, I think this problem is shared by a vast portion of smartphone-using people. Why is this? In both the TED Talk and Pantsuit Politics episode I mentioned, they talk about the idea that apps and services are designed to keep your attention. Pantsuit Politics called it an "attention economy." Everything about most of the media apps we all use is designed to keep us coming back, and although this isn't an inconspicuous fact, it's not been talked about until recently. But why? How can we take back our attention and still take full advantage of the capabilities of the tools in our pockets? How can we show developers and companies that we don't want the addictive content and formatting they're serving us? I don't know how this will play out in the future of technology, but it's something we've got to talk about, and I'm so glad the conversation has started.


1 https://www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas

2 http://www.pantsuitpoliticsshow.com/show-archives/2017/10/9/harvey-weinstein-masculinity-mass-shootings-and-facebook-trump-and-the-attention-economy

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