When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he spent most of the time talking about how we wouldn’t need to carry a mobile phone and an iPod separately anymore. That was the main focus of the iPhone. At that time there was no app store.
In 12 years, it has changed. The main reason we use our iPhone or any other smartphone isn’t to listen to music. It’s to stay connected. This little device has transformed how we live in good and bad ways.
The smartphone is now an integral part of our life. We check it first thing in the morning and the last thing before we go to bed. If we forget out phone at home, we feel like a piece of us is missing the rest of the day. We feel anxious without it.
When we’re bored, we immediately grab our phone. When we’re with friends or at dinner, we still do the same.
The ability to always be connected and have new information anytime we want has caused a new problem. That’s the addiction to our smartphones.
What are the negative consequences of this addiction? It’s a loss of focus, loss of time, loss of being present, and loss of true relationships.
Over the years I have gotten better about using my iPhone, but I know it still consumes too much of my day. Even when I try to focus on writing this article, I pick up my iPhone to open a number of apps that I regularly use in order to see what’s new.
I always thought that it was my fault and that I lacked willpower. I now realize that there’s more to it after reading a book called “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport.
Billions are spent to keep us addicted
What was surprising to learn was that the apps we love to use aren’t designed by accident. It make sense now, but I never thought that the features in our favorite apps are there because companies are spending billions of dollars to keep us using.
Let’s take Facebook for example because it’s the most popular social media network in the world. I know I spend the most time on Facebook.
Facebook is like a slot machine. On a slot machine, you pull the lever or push a button hoping to win money. You know that every time the wheels spin, you have a chance for something good to happen.
When you open Facebook, you’re hoping for something good to see. It could be how many likes you’ve gotten on a picture you uploaded. It could be a new comment left for you. It could be whether or not someone tagged you in a comment or photo.
When this happens, it sends dopamine to your brain and that brings you pleasure. When something brings you pleasure, your brain wants more of it.
Facebook is designed to get you to spend as much time as possible on it. Even when you click a link to a story, it opens its own web browser to keep you inside of Facebook.
This is why it encourages you to enable notifications so you can know right away when someone has tagged you or liked something you shared. When you spend more time in Facebook, then it makes more money from advertisers who pay to get seen in your newsfeed.
You could spend 30 minutes on Facebook, then put your phone away and suddenly be compelled to check Facebook again just a few minutes later.
This is not by accident. It’s been designed to make us do this.
Every time you get on Facebook, your newsfeed is never the same. It always shows you something new because it knows your brain is looking for something new.
After you see your new likes and comments, you keep looking for more. If you keep scrolling down your newsfeed, you might find something interesting.
Facebook spends billions of dollars and employs thousands of people to figure out how to get us to spend as much time on Facebook.
This also applies to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and even games. There’s a game I’ve played for years now and I can see what the developers have added in order for me to spend as much time as possible in the game. It works because all throughout the day I’ll open the game in order to do certain actions that help me in the game.
There’s a term for the this and it’s called the attention economy. Companies are pulling for our attention. The more attention their company gets the more they can make money through advertising. So it uses psychological tricks in order for us to spend time.
A Digital Detox isn’t the best solution
What most people do when they’ve felt like they have no control over technology is to do a digital detox. It is spending a certain amount of time with our phone, computer, or iPad.
In his book, Cal Newport explains why these digital dextoxes aren’t the right approach to treat an obsession with tech.
Instead he proposes an alternative called “digital decluttering.” There is a difference between the two.
A detox just gives you a break and is temporary. Instead the goal should be a permanent transformation of your digital life. It’s reassessing the importance of certain technology and apps in your life.
The detoxing is merely a step that supports this transformation.
You use the break as the beginning of how you change your relationship with tech permanently.
He put out an email to his mailing list asking for volunteers in December 2017. He expected less than a hundred to reply but instead got 1,600 eager volunteers agreeing to the challenge.
The New York Times published an article about his experiment and what readers gained from it.
After the 30 days, his fans were surprised to learn the degree which their digital lives had become cluttered with compulsive behaviors. They found it easier to reconnect to the types of activities they used to enjoy before they were glued to their screens.
Start your Digital Declutter
Here’s the process for the digital declutter:
1. Put aside a 30 day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life. This could include any apps, website, social media, video games, or Netflix.
2. During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.
3. At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies into your life, starting from a blank slate. For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it.
Step 2 is important. Newport advises to replace the time spent on digital technology with other activities because if you don’t you will be bored and feel anxious.
Many participants read more books, reconnected with friends and family face to face, and picked up or started hobbies.
By doing activities that are meaningful to you, you’re making the most of this extra time you have and helps you build a better life.
Newport doesn’t say you have to completely stop using any tech or social media in your life. He just wants you to have technology play a supporting role in your life and not be the center of your life.
Since I just finished reading this book, I look forward to going 30 days to declutter my digital life.