Managing digital addiction

USV’s book club book for this month is Drug Dealer, MD, by Dr. Anna Lembke, Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford Hospital – so we have spent a bunch of time recently talking about addiction.

It is not a stretch to hypothesize that we, as a society, are at a moment of heightened addiction, generally speaking. Binging on Netflix, checking phones constantly for emails and “likes”, playing Fortnite, vaping, pills, etc. There are a lot of forces pulling us towards a pattern of repeated short-term, immediate “highs”.

I worry about all of these forms of addiction, particularly for my kids, who are just entering the “danger zone” where the combination of access to things and social pressure starts to cause problems — for example, what’s happening with vaping, starting in middle school, is surprisingly powerful and terrifying.

Naomi, who proposed the book, invited Dr. Lembke to join us yesterday for our discussion, which was fantastic.  In addition to talking in depth about the causes and treatments for opioid addiction, we spent some time talking about digital addiction — screens, games, etc.

I cannot at all claim that I am good when it comes to managing screen addiction, but we have done a few things around our house that I think are helpful, so I thought I would mention them here.

1/ No devices in the bedroom — no phones, computers, or TV allowed. I charge my phone on a dresser across the room from the bed.  This serves double duty of forcing me to get out of bed to turn off the alarm.

2/ Meditation.  Meditation seems to me to be the most obvious antidote and counter-force to addictions of all kind.  For this reason it doesn’t surprise me at all that it is surging in popularity right now. Meditation not only focuses the mind, helping to shed the the static, but it also helps build that muscle to resist the moment-to-moment impulses that are so common with digital addiction.

3/ Physical activities.  As much as I can, I try to engage in completely “analog” physical activities, especially with my kids.  Sports (playing, coaching), projects in and around the house.  Skiing, while expensive and hard to do a lot, is probably my favorite, as it’s really an extended digital vacation.

4/ Read physical books.  Whether I’m reading before bed, or reading in the living room around my family, I try to read in print form.  Or, worst case, if I am reading something digital around my family, I prefer to do it on a tablet rather than my phone — this is a subtle difference but I think it really does change the social dynamic (you are more “there” and others can see what you’re doing).

Zach was telling me yesterday that he sometimes does “no social media Saturdays”, which I like. I don’t do that formally, but I definitely do orient my weekends around non-digital activities as much as possible.

One area I would like to work on is not keeping my phone with me when I’m in the house, especially when I am with the family. I often keep the phone plugged in and charging in the kitchen, which helps, but is not 100% the norm.

I am also trying to do this without making a lot of rules for the kids around screen time.  I prefer to get them to enjoy non-digital activities, rather than hold out screen time as some sort of prize if they abstain for long enough.

As anyone who has dealt first-hand with addiction knows, it is an awful thing, that can destroy people, relationships and families.  So given that there is so much ambient opportunity for it these days, I think it’s really important to try and be proactive around it.

17 comments on “Managing digital addiction”

I think what makes digital addiction so hard to avoid is its inherent qualities that exponentiate one’s career, life, etc.

In today’s age, I have the channels to reach just about anyone I’d ever want to reach. And if you go by the mantra “if there is a will, there is a way”, you can be consumed in that aspect.

that is true

though I think the solution lies somewhere around the idea of realizing how important the real-world / physical people connections are, and focusing on those when you can

It’s tricky. A behaviour becomes an addiction when it becomes a compulsion. Is digital ‘addiction’ a compulsion, or is it the new normal required to live a ‘modern’ life? Where is the dividing line between the two, and how do we recogniser which side we find ourselves on?

and the virality of it. It’s not a personal addiction. It’s collective. That makes it even harder.

Great topic for sure. I really like your 4 methods to combat digital addiction especially #1 and #2 on your list.

I used to put my phone in my desk drawer over night. Out of site, out of mind. But a few days ago I bought a wireless charger for my mobile phone and placed it by my bed. Big mistake. Wireless charging makes it so easy to pick up your device. I’ll be moving the charger to my desk, away from the temptation of picking it up in the middle of the night.

Another trick I was doing about this time last year, was to turn my phone completely off from 7am-12pm and then again from 1-3pm during the day. The times I was most productive in during the day. Allowed me to do highly focused sprints. Something I’ll be starting back up again.

As for the meditation, I moved my meditation time to 12pm and I finally started doing it a bit more consistently. It also gives me a bit of a break. Hoping to reap the benefit of that in the future.

Physical activity is a time, for me as I am competitive, where I highly benefit from having a device by there tracking everything I do. But doing more “recreational” activity, i.e. surfing and skiing are something I’m promising myself to do more of in 2019. Something I like to call my old “Vancouver leisure lifestyle.”

When it comes to reading, nothing beats reading from the physical medium. It’s far more enjoyable. But I succumb to the guilt of knowing that purchasing physical books increases my carbon footprint. I used to use my tablet but I was always distracted for in some way and when reading in bright light it become difficult. About 2 years ago now, a former coworker highly recommended the Kindle Paperwhite and I have to admit it’s a game changer. Almost all of my books in one place. E-readers cue to others that I am reading and not checking emails, etc., and the Paperwhite works so well in all lighting situations. Guilt free.

My wife uses the kindle paperwhite that way and it really works for her. I just really like a paper book. I can’t help it.

I like the suggestion of trying meditation at midday. I might give that a shot. That is the time when I most often feel like I need it.

On “attachment points” in decentralised networks. Is that like the ‘sticky’ we saw with earlier centralised platforms?

Great, great article Nick! There was an article on Inc. by some CEO about fitness – we need to make it our #1 priority, makes us healthier, happier and more productive.
But I guess none of here is some fitness obsessed quarterback, it’s sooo hard!
I try to do all these things, rather surprisingly the thing that lowered the most dramatically my phone use was the realization that I type at about 60-70 words per minute on the PC keyboard, but just getting around 20 words per minute on the phone! That’s over 3x slower, thus 3x more time to chat etc. Made me mad, because I realized how much time I’ve wasted and it just goes away w/o you noticing it… I thought the difference was much lower!
Also we read slower on phone/ipads, I’m speed reader, but on the phone 250-300 is maximum, may be around 150 or less is default, so again – lots of wasted time.
What I find the hardest to get out of my system is checking my phone when I wake up and go to the kitchen… sometimes these msgs or missed calls ruin my day. My mood gets anxious before I’ve started fitness :( If I start checking this stuff after fitness & breakfast – then there’s no bad news, anything is possible and everything is positive :)
Sometimes I wish mobile phones were not so mobile :P

A Kindle feels like a ‘stand alone’ environment, helpfully cutting me off from the addicts and their compulsive digital behaviour.

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