Imagine waking up each morning, reaching over to your nightstand and finding a beautifully made martini. You could spend the first 10 minutes of your day, lying in bed, sipping the drink and anticipating the buzz. Sure, it might keep you from accomplishing much before noon but the dopamine rush you’d get each day by opening your eyes and seeing it there within reach would be worth it, right?
Unless you’re a raving alcoholic, this probably sounds awful. The same with other dopamine inducing triggers like cigarettes, marijuana, gambling etc. The more you do them, the more you build brain neural pathways of anticipation that will trigger a dopamine response. You become more compelled by the habit even if the substance brings less and less actual pleasure.
We are addicted to our screens just like this. However, no one feels the need to check into rehab for a digital addiction. Its perfectly acceptable to have your mobile on the nightstand and to scroll through it at night before bed, in the morning first thing and even in the middle of the night when you wake up and have a nano-second of insomnia. In fact, in many businesses (like journalism) its a badge of honor to always been in tune and available on all platforms.
My husband is an educator and writer and has been talking to me about this topic for several months as it relates to student achievement and attention span. Kids are equally as addicted to screens. So far, his research points to a correlation between interactive screens and academic difficulty (the interactivity is key here). As his research spills into our conversations, I’ve been thinking of my own productivity and how I can relegate my screen time into a smaller space in my life.
I started the day after Christmas by purchasing a paper calendar which I will use instead of my digital calendar. I haven’t used a paper agenda since the 90’s but I figure it will cut down on the beeps and buzzes that send me scrolling through my phone to see what appointment is 2 days away, then 1 hour away, then 15 minutes away. If I need that many reminders, I’m too damn busy.
I’ve also vowed not to take my phone into our afternoon editorial meetings. Its too easy to scroll through email as reporters are pitching their stories. Our new format demands my attention to detail and to be able to ask the best questions during the pitch and coverage decision process. Plus, those few moments waiting for the meeting to start are better spent engaging with my co-workers, not scrolling through my social media as we sit shoulder to shoulder at a conference table all staring at our phones.
I will charge my devices (yes…I have both a work phone AND a personal phone) in another room. Getting out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to fetch my mobile is much less likely than reaching the foot and half to my nightstand when the sound of it vibrating with an alert on the marble top tempts me to be compelled by a dopamine response. Besides, if there is a big news event, I have a home phone that rings loudly. My news director had no trouble reaching me at 3am during the Napa earthquake.
Finally, I plan on starting a digital project with my social media friends to find out how they’re responding, if at all, to a digital addiction. I’ve already posted one video on my FaceBook page about my paper agenda purchase. My goal is to have coffee with as many of them as possible this year to get their insights on screen addiction. We’ll do a face to face but I’ll share their ideas and insights online as the year progresses. I need a catchy name for the segment, which I don’t have yet…but its a work in progress and should collect an interesting body of research.
It used to be that information was most valuable, now its ubiquitous. Its our TIME that is most valuable and our ability to focus enough on the deep work that is valued in society. Yes, I want to see those Instagrammed culinary masterpieces and even a particularly fetching selfie but I no longer want to be tapped on the shoulder every 5 minutes as my neural pathways become slaves to a punch of dopamine.