Digital Downfalls: Are Smartphones an Opioid?
By Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D.
Picture this scenario: It’s a Saturday morning and the kids are sleeping in. After taking your time getting out of bed, you make your way toward a quiet kitchen where you pour yourself a cup of coffee. It’s a beautiful day, so you pick up a magazine and head outside to enjoy some sun as you sip and read. Sounds like a perfectly wonderful way to make the most of that rare hour alone, before you have to think about breakfast, laundry, obligations. But for the majority of us, this description is likely missing some detail. Perhaps this sounds more accurate: It’s a Saturday morning. Upon opening your eyes, you instinctively reach for your smartphone, eagerly scrolling through to catch up on new texts, emails, news stories, and Facebook notifications. Your attention is fixed on the screen for several minutes before you pull yourself out of bed. As you pour yourself some coffee, you check out your Instagram feed. You place your phone in the pocket of your pajama pants as you flip through a magazine—only to reach for it when you feel a slight vibration. Your heart sinks when you see that no new notifications await, but now that your phone’s out anyway, decide to see what’s happening on Facebook.
Sounding familiar? Allow me to continue:
After looking out your window and noting the bright sunny day that beckons, you choose to sit inside—the sunlight makes it difficult to see your screen. Soon, the kids are up and you realize you’ve burned through an entire hour with not much to show for it. As you start making breakfast, you make a promise to yourself to keep your phone screen-side down on the counter. But as you’re flipping the pancakes, resisting the temptation to look becomes a distraction in itself. You impatiently finish the task at hand and are flooded with a sense of pleasure as your fingers finally reach for your phone. It’s not until later that morning, as you realize you completely tuned out your kids as they told you their dreams from the night before, or their plans for the day, that the feeling of pleasure is replaced with a vague guilt: Is this really how I want to be spending my time?
The answer is likely a resounding No.
Over 65 percent of Americans now own a smartphone. The average individual checks their phone 150 times a day. Even if we spent just thirty seconds on our phone for each of those “checks”, it would amount to over an hour of phone time. But once we check in, it can be difficult to pull ourselves away. Some of you may attribute your constant need to pick up your phone to a lack of willpower. But I want to tell you something critically important: It’s not you: It’s the phone. We are living in the Age of Distraction.
In the workplace, distraction costs U.S. businesses $650 Billion per year. What is the cost to our priceless emotional lives; to our love relations?
This is about so much more than screen time. This is about the human need to connect, and the fear of aloneness and isolation that we all experience in our lives. It’s about the chemical and neurological makeup of addiction and how that translates to the “ping!” you hear, or the phantom vibrations you feel. Technology has revolutionized our world while simultaneously introducing a slew of problematic behaviors and patterns that we experience daily. The solution begins with self-awareness.
Distraction is but one of the many Digital Downfalls we all face in our contemporary tech-centered culture—but it’s huge. Turning to our phones as a way to cope with our most feared inner emotions, the ones we try to bury deep within, is not the solution. If we can become more self-aware of what we are trying so hard to avoid, we can begin the process of becoming fuller—and more engaged—individuals, fully tuned into our lives and those within them that matter to us.