How to manage your addiction to technology

Updating your status from the bathroom? Admit it: You've been there. Credit: Lightwavemedia
Updating your status from the bathroom? Admit it: You’ve been there.
Credit: Lightwavemedia

The question:
It seems I can’t go an hour or so without checking my smartphone for text and emails. It’s the first thing I do in the morning, even before brushing my teeth. Am I an addict?

Generally speaking, the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) defines addiction as a loss of control, marked by reduced involvement in other activities, failed attempts to cut back, tolerance and withdrawal. It defines abuse as a pattern of maladaptive behaviors, resulting in “significant negative physical, social, interpersonal or legal consequences.”

If one were to apply such criterion to normative smartphone and email use, you and I, and the vast majority of Americans, would be working the 12-Steps. Consider the following statistics. As of January 2014, some 90 percent of Americans had cell phones, smartphones, e-readers or tablets. Of this total, 67 percent of cell owners found themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts or calls, even when they didn’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. Forty-four percent said they slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages or other updates during the night, and 29 percent of cell owners described theirs as “something they can’t imagine living without.”

What’s behind our obsession? For starters, instant gratification and intermittent reinforcement — there’s no greater incentive to keep sticking our hands in the cookie jar if we pull an Oreo one out of every three tries. Mix in our dependence on mobile devices for communication with spouses, friends, children and work , and you’ve got one powerful prescription for a societal epidemic.

A perfunctory scan of Internet for articles on this subject paints a rather insidious picture of our most prevalent bad habit — a rise in text-related traffic accidents and fatalities, psychologists weighing in on the impact of distracted parents on child development, Fortune 500 CEOs rendered powerlessness over their inability turn off their cellphones, even for an hour.

Now that we’ve established you’re not alone, here are things you (and others) might consider:

1) Becoming aware. Take an inventory at how many hours you spend daily texting or checking your emails. While I’m not a tech-savvy person, there are apps that monitor texts and emails. You can also time yourself and record the results in a notebook.

2) Setting aside specific times of the day aside to check and return emails and texts. Alternatively, you might also limit yourself to a certain number of times per day that you check emails (for example, three times a day).

3) Declaring email/text-free days or vacations. For example, you can let your friends and colleague know that every Saturday, you do not check or return emails and text messages. In observance of Passover, the administrative offices of my synagogue (Romemu, Judaism for Mind, Body and Spirit) have sworn off email for an entire week to rout out this modern-day plague.
While we may laugh off our iphone-as-appendages jokes, take heed. The most recent version of the DSM has been publicly criticized for pathologizing what was once considered normative human behavior (more on that: http://www.metro.us/boston/lifestyle/2013/06/02/challenging-the-bible-of-mental-health/) Should the DSM continue on its current trajectory, we may find ourselves in a decade or so with a whole new set of technology-related diagnoses, like:

E-diction: a neurological dependence on email that significantly interferes with sleep, work, and interpersonal relationships.
Ipho-bia: Fear of being without one’s cell phone for longer than an hour
OCT (Obsessive Compulsive Texting): a compulsion to check your iphone every two minutes to ensure you don’t miss and fail to instantly return an important text
OCE (Obsessive Compulsive Emailing): a compulsion to check your email every two minutes to ensure you don’t miss and fail to instantly return an important message, especially from prospective lovers and/or business associates
E-pression: a low-grade depression caused by receiving mostly Junkmail, and Spam for two or more days
Anxiet-E: Fear of receiving upsetting emails; or alternatively, of missing important emails in your inbox with 6,000 messages, 300 of which are unread
PTS-E: Fear of receiving yet another crazy email from your ex
Insomn-Ea: The inability to get off email at 2 a.m.
E-lapse: When you’re up until 2 a.m. writing emails, after you swore you’d never do this again.



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