Showing posts with label addiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label addiction. Show all posts

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why You Should #DeleteFacebook from Your Phone

(Image: steptohealth.com)

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
Dalai Lama

Larry Page the CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, famously told the New York Times that when he looks to purchase a company, he asks whether it passes the toothbrush test; Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better? 

At first glance the statement seems perfectly innocuous and almost noble when you think about technology making your life better, but the reality is far more pernicious. Unlike brushing your teeth, something we are taught to do from early child hood, in order to preserve our gums and have healthy teeth, for internet companies the equivalent is finding ways to ensure we get fixated with and completely addicted to their products.

This type of addiction to Facebook, Google, Amazon, LinkedIn or Netflix has nothing to do with making us healthier or better human beings; in fact it is having exactly the opposite effect on our brains, mental well-being and state of happiness.

Merriam-Webster describes addiction as;
1: the quality or state of being addicted
2: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful

There is a reason Silicon Valley does not use traditional business metrics like earnings, sales or revenue to measure an acquisition target, instead they look at ‘stickiness’ or addiction in terms of how often users interact with the app on a daily basis.

Until now we thought about harmful addictions primarily in terms of substance abuse because it is easier to see the visible and physical effects on someone addicted to drugs, alcohol or sex; with the internet and social media, the addiction is more disarming and harder to see. We can all agree that most addictions are bad for human beings, and scientists and researchers are just now starting to see the detrimental effect smart phones are having on our intelligence, social skills and declining levels of happiness.

I understand that this is a hard thing to get your head around because few people will be able to imagine navigating daily life without a smartphone. It is how we stay in touch with friends, share kid’s milestones with family, communicate with co-workers, stay on top of breaking news, search for answers and even solve complex work problems, as well as what we turn to for entertainment during commutes and down-time. Nobody is suggesting we power down our phones and move back into caves, but it is important to understand the harm of constant use and without conscious boundaries.

A recent Wall Street Journal article cites a number of independent research studies reaching the same dangerous conclusion that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.”

To keep us addicted, each service needs to constantly invent new ways to get us to spend time within their apps and to do it many times a day. This is how Facebook, BuzzFeed, Instagram, Reditt and every other similar service make money - the more often we use it, the more likely we are to see an ad, and thus the more valuable their service becomes to an advertiser.

There are only so many baby pictures and cat videos one can watch. After a while the bit of content vying for our attention needs to become more and more outrageous and sensational to command our repeated attention. It is this vicious cycle in a race to become the most addictive that is driving all their content into the gutter, as we saw with the mass proliferation of fake news across all news and social media platforms in the last US election.

People will argue that we have dealt with many captive and unhealthy mediums over the centuries and mankind has not only survived, but thrived, and this is true; but unlike cinema, radio, television or computers, we have never before been able to immerse ourselves in these things twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and have them within our reach from the moment we wake up to when we sleep.

The same WSJ article explains this fundamental difference with a mobile phone in this way: “Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.”

Another study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found a direct connection between increased Facebook usage and decreased well-being; “And the team says their findings show that "well-being declines are also a matter of quantity of use rather than only quality of use." Even if we were to argue that adults are generally more capable of dealing with this type of addiction, which the data says is not true, we must consider the devastating effect it is having on younger minds.

Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who has been studying generational differences for 25 years, recently wrote an article in The Atlantic on this issue. She found that “there is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.” She concludes that “there’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness.”

I am not suggesting that Facebook, LinkedIn or Google are evil; in fact in the grand scheme of life they have done much more good than bad. The issue is the frequency with which we engage with our apps based on having our mobile phones tethered to us 24x7, and the incessant and constant need to consume information via the built in alerts and notifications, which are designed to distract us from life and encroach on our minds in unhealthy ways.

I understand that it is not possible to live without Facebook and Google or a mobile phone today, but there is no reason why we need to have access to and distraction by these services twenty-four hours a day. My suggestion (and this is what I have done) is to delete Facebook from your phone, because it is the MOST distracting and harmful social platform of the lot and then turn OFF your notifications on all the other apps barring maybe two or three news sites.

This way you will still have access to everything but will be in total command of when and where you do, and no longer be a slave to their alerts and notifications.

I promise you that you will be much happier and science says your mind will be much healthier.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Up In Smoke

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
Winston Churchill

There are things that are really and truly hard to give up, and then there is quitting smoking. Without a doubt the hardest thing I have done in my life. This post chronicles my journey and offers to serve as a pat on my back. I feel I deserve one, for kicking a habit that experts say is harder to kick than heroin addiction. That, in my book, deserves a self-congratulatory blog post. That said, this post is also dedicated to all those people who are trying, have tried or want to try to quit smoking. And before you get any ideas, I want to be clear at the outset that my intention is not to encourage anyone to quit smoking. I am not one of those irritating born again ex-smoker zealots who goes around preaching the health benefits of being smoke free. Or, worse yet, someone who feels compelled to shove down your throat the ills of smoking, at every opportunity they get. For those people who have absolutely no desire to kick the habit, I say, “smoke on, and let the nicotine flow!” However, to those who have not yet tried it, I will say don’t ever – the early joys are not worth the price you pay later in life, and I have witnessed this first hand.

I started smoking when I was fifteen years old for two simple reasons. First, it made my Bacardi and coke taste better and second, all the girls in school that I wanted to hang out with liked to hang out with boys who smoked. Of course, it helped that in those days you could smoke on the London Underground platform (no joke), buses, movie theaters and pretty much anywhere you could find a light. And more than anything else I actually enjoyed every drag of my cigarette, to the point that after the first month I no longer cared about looking cool anymore. I guess I was hooked to the physical addiction and this went far beyond the social ritual that came along with the cigarettes. For the next twenty-one years I enjoyed every moment of it, so much so, that people routinely told me that I looked like I was born to smoke because I appeared so happy and natural doing it. I realise this should not make me feel proud, but I did. I was never one of those people who ever wanted to or tried to quit smoking. Actually, I read somewhere in my teens that if you quit around the age of thirty-five, you can stop, and sometimes even reverse, the damage to your lungs. Whether it was true or not did not really matter, it was good enough for me. Besides at the age of sixteen, the word thirty not only felt like a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away, but also a few lifetimes away. So my decision was made; I would live life to the fullest, smoking, drinking and doing everything else my heart desired until my mid-thirties.

There was one time in college that I did quit smoking. It was based on a challenge issued by someone who did not believe my little theory, and more importantly found totally incredulous the fact that I believed I would simply be able to drop such a powerful addiction at a time of my choosing. Now, you should also know that I was no longer a causal smoker by this stage (Mom, please don’t read the rest of this paragraph.). I was smoking more than one pack a day at the time. Crazy, I know, but easy to do when you are partying 24 hours a day, and living on 1-2 hours sleep a night. Not being one to back down from a good challenge, especially one that entailed testing my will power; I not only offered to quit smoking for two months but also threw in the added difficulty of doing it during the most stressful time known to a student – end of semester exams. That same day I finished my open pack and started my two-month long tribulation against all the odds. I will not say it was easy but luckily for me I had a few things working in my favour. I am a Leo, love winning, and had been smoking for a short five years. I even carried my trusty Zippo around with me for the entire time, lighting everyone else’s cigarette and anything else I could find. The two months passed and I had won with relative ease, much to the chagrin of my challenger and the delight of my friends. As I celebrated my victory by getting ready to sample the pleasures of my first post challenge cigarette, my girlfriend at the time asked me the most ludicrous question – “Since you quit for two months, and at a time you most needed your addiction, why not just stop smoking altogether?” Women.

Fast forward to August 2006, I had been smoking for a grand total of twenty-one years (with only that two month break), and found myself suddenly staring my thirty-sixth birthday in the face, and showing little sign of being able to quit. My wife was one of the people who was in on my little plan of quitting ‘around the age of thirty-five’ and was also beginning to doubt I ever would be able to kick this habit. Turns out she was not the only one; my Doctor, my mother and my entire trusty friend circle seemed to have serious doubts, I realised, when they all began to suggest taking a new miracle drug called Chantix to fulfill my self professed promise. As much as I hate getting help from anyone, I am even more skeptical of brain altering drugs. I believe that if you want to do something, you have to make up your mind and just do it. For me this is the only real and lasting way and failure is also not an option for a Leo. So I decided to move to plan B. I knew I wanted to and had even made up my mind to do it, so the only thing that remained was finding a way to wean my body off the physical nicotine addiction, without the aid of drugs or patches. So I turned it into a challenge to myself and decided to find out what the most basic amount of nicotine my body needed to survive was. I started by cutting down the number of daily cigarettes, from 20 to 10 over a period of three months. At 10 I was doing perfectly fine with no crazy cravings. So I moved it to the next level and decided to smoke only when I was really, really dying to have one. As it turns out, my cravings that I could not live without were satisfied by 4 cigarettes a day; two in the morning, one after lunch and one after dinner. That was it. Just 4 measly cigarettes a day; I knew I could beat my addiction and have been completely (not even a drag) smoke free since 7th June 2007.