By Neil Seligman, Founder of The Conscious Professional, Corporate Mindfulness Expert and Author of how-to guide 100 Mindfulness Meditations.
Let’s start with three alarming facts:
- The average smartphone user checks their device 224 times a day.
- Rich silicon valley software designers often send their children to tech-free schools.
- Your phone has been designed to addict you.
I was at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference this February in San Francisco where I have been a yearly attendee since 2014. The conference invites talks and conversations on the intersection of mindfulness, technology and business. This year in particular I was struck by the underlying shame I felt in some of the wealthy tech founders, who are waking up to the stark human costs of their bonanza of successful devices, apps and attention-stealing technologies.
So let’s be clear, the technologies that we hold in our hands, and stare at every day, are not neutral. They have been designed from start to finish with one aim in mind: to keep your eyes on the screen for as long as possible.
The reason for this is that the accepted price point for content on the internet is free. That means that the internet is paid for largely by advertising dollars. Advertisers require you to see their advert before they pay up, hence the need to keep you online.
The tech industry runs on persuasive technologies. App designers and coders sit around asking: how do I get users to come back to this app more frequently tomorrow, and how can I make them spend longer on it each time than they did today? The title of the key textbook they turn to says it all: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal.
Whilst, technological advances have led to incredible gains in many spheres of human endeavour, there is an important cost to note in respect of the impact on our precious human consciousness, which is susceptible to over-stimulation from data, push notifications, and dopamine addiction.
As a mindfulness teacher working often in corporate environments, the digital impact on consciousness is clear to see. I am no longer surprised when delegates report that they wake up in the middle of the night (sometimes on multiple occasions) to check their email, social media or even the news.
The role of dopamine is key to all of this. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter implicated in all addictive human behaviours (including gambling, heroin, and alcohol abuse). Dopamine initiates seeking behaviour linked to reward. It is an extremely powerful driver of human behaviour and is activated when you are alerted to something new in your world. Guess what the pings, whooshes, red lights, vibrations and clickbait headlines are designed to set off? Not to mention the perpetual scroll on FB? That’s right, the internet, and your phone which allows you to access it 24/7, is basically a slot machine. Dopamine, dopamine, dopamine.
Now, we eventually figured out that cars pollute our external environment and this is a bad thing for all of us. How long will it take us to realise that poorly designed digital technologies are damaging the populous by polluting our minds and that this too is highly undesirable and unhealthy. We are talking about human consciousness after all. We are talking about mental health.
Just take a look at this list of digital ailments that have recently gained professional classification to see where things are headed:
Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)
Information and brain overload causing brain to lose capacity to attend fully.
80% of office-workers hold their breath whilst checking email.
Over-use and over-reliance on technology damaging short-term memory.
Continuous Partial Attention (CPA)
Process of paying simultaneous attention to a number of sources but at a superficial level and splintering focus.
Fear of being out of mobile phone contact.
Phantom Vibration Syndrome / Hypo-Vibochondria / Ringxiety
Perception that one’s phone is ringing or vibrating when it is not.
The outcomes of digital addiction are all around, but what can we do to correct course? I think it is important at the outset to define what we are looking for as we begin our search for digital wellbeing. This is my attempt at a definition:
Digital wellbeing is characterised by behavioural-awareness leading to intentional engagement with devices, data and connection.
If you are now motivated to increase your own digital wellbeing here are five of my top tips to start you off.
- Turn off as many push notifications as you can
Push notifications allow an app to send a message direct to your home screen. Whilst there is a case for texts to interrupt you, there is usually no need for Facebook, Pinterest or Candy Crush to do the same! Review your settings regularly and make smart choices to put you back in the driving seat.
- Introduce at least 1 device-free meal a day
Yes this is hard, but so vital. The quality of your consciousness whilst you eat is as important in nourishing you, as the food itself.
- Enforce a tech-free zone in your home
You might choose your bedroom to become a tech-free sanctuary. A place to sleep, read, share time with loved ones and where you choose not to be disturbed by your devices. Watch your sleep improve!
- Have a tech-curfew
Eg. Try a screen-free chill down of half an hour before bed.
- Wear a watch
Each time you check the time on your phone, you will also be likely to check all your apps.
To find out more, watch my 30-minute talk on Digital Wellbeing from The Mindful Living Show 2017 now available free on the Warrior Addict Youtube channel: click on the image below:
And, if you would like help asserting your new digital boundaries, drop a blank email with SANITY in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you a free worksheet.
Now, I’m off to check my Instagram ;)
Warrior Addict Brand Warrior and International Mindfulness Advocate and Conscious Visionary, Neil Seligman is dedicated to sharing the power of mindfulness globally, transforming lives, and inspiring excellence in all aspects of human endeavour. He is the Founder of *The Conscious Professional, the Author of 100 Mindfulness Meditations, and the Originator of Soul Portrait Photography.
For more information about Neil, click here