You vs. Technology
The Addiction You Willingly Ignore
It’s a losing battle. Unless you are willing to admit what you are up against and you’re honest with yourself. I mean brutally honest.
First, you need to admit that technology is not neutral. Neither the hardware, nor the applications we use, are neutral. They are as neutral as the big brand that spends billions of dollars to convince you that you need more shit. These technologies are built for you to consume more every day, month, and year. That is their single most important metric. A tree is neutral, Instagram is not.
In Silicon Valley, it’s a race to the bottom of your brainstem; where your fear, anxiety, and loneliness reside. The brain stem is one of the most basic regions of the human brain, yet it is one of the most vital regions for our body’s survival. Product managers and leading engineers at the big technology companies know this, just as sure as Don Draper knew it when he pitched Kodak. They are using the same predatory and unethical techniques.
One could say it’s my responsibility to have discipline and self-control over my phone and my overall digital consumption, but it’s not quite that simple. You see, there are thousands of people at Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Instagram who are tasked with breaking me. They will do whatever they can to ensure I don’t stop. This isn’t science fiction, this is reality.
Let me ask you this, do you ever start your day by reaching for your phone while still in bed? I admit it, I have. What could have happened while you and 95% of the people you know were sleeping? If you, or someone you know, lit up a cigarette upon waking you’d probably say that’s a sign of a pretty serious addiction. Are smartphones the new cigarettes?
"And so you could ask when these features are being designed, are they designed to most help people live their life or are they being designed because they’re best at hooking people into using the product? – Tristan Harris"
Ever feel your phone vibrate in your pocket but then when you go to check you don’t even have your phone in your pocket? Phantom vibration is a real thing and very similar to euphoric recall which many drug users feel when triggered by something related to their addiction, a sound, a scent, or an image.
There is a tendency for people to remember past experiences in a positive light, while overlooking negative experiences associated with that event. There are engineers who understand how addiction works and they apply it to their code. It’s built into your hardware.
The phone and the applications on it are constantly stimulating your brain. However, human brains were not built for this constant stimulation. It’s as though your phone is a slot machine, and the apps on it are programming you to come back over and over again. And it works! On average, people check their phones 150 times per day.
Twelve years ago, before anyone had smartphones, Tony Schwartz addressed the unmanageable challenge of being constantly stimulated in his book, The Power of Full Engagement. In mental training, as in physical training, it is important to exercise and then rest. Stress and rest are both necessary, but in a rhythmic cycle. Rhythms are everywhere in the universe: sunrise, sunset; full moon, new moon; summer, autumn, winter, spring. Your heartbeat and sleep are also rhythmic. How can you restore your energy if you are over stimulated by technology addictions? You can’t because of this epic ‘you versus technology’ battle that most of us aren’t even aware is happening.
So then why do we do it? Why do we continue to succumb to this addiction? Again, I draw the comparison to addictive drugs. Technology and feeling like you’re constantly connected to the people ‘in your life’ allows you to run and hide from your fear, your loneliness. It’s a coping mechanism. You hand over power to your phone the same way you hand over your power to cocaine. We first reach for technology because we are anxious, we are literally scared of spending time with our own thoughts, we want to run away from ourselves.
First, cortisol is released and brings with it feelings of anxiety. We then check our phones in order to relieve those feelings. It was those nasty notifications on your phone that initiated the spike of cortisol in the first place. The hardware and software is then designed to provoke a neurological response around desire and pleasure. That pleasure results in a hit of dopamine and we are temporarily relieved, temporarily happy.
"We are at an inflection point where the ubiquity of our technology, and the speed with which it’s impacting the far reaches of our society call for greater attention not just to how we build it, but why it matters, and how it extends and contributes to the achievement of human goals. - Scott Hartley"
Next time you go to reach for your phone ask yourself what you’re looking at it for. Why are reaching for it? Next time you find yourself in an Instagram hole ask yourself how are you feeling right now? Why are you feeling that way? Are you lonely? Bored? Tired? What else could you do to fill that void or replace that feeling? Is this time well spent?
The way we use phones and the apps installed on them is a coping mechanism. They help us alleviate feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Goliath knows this. You are in a battle and real keys to victory are often obscured by our misconceptions, in this case that technology is neutral. Perceiving your feelings correctly can amount to a David-sized advantage.
What would happen if you didn’t use that coping mechanism anymore? What would you have to face? What do you need to address in yourself to be able to face that head on?