Your Smartphone Is Making You A Digital Zombie (And Yes, You’re Living In Denial)

Hi.

I’ve left home without my mobile phone. 

I’ve left just with my Apple Watch and Airpods, to a nearby Chinese dinner. While I was there, a huge storm came and they’ve had to lock in the place. 

I couldn’t call a Grab. I couldn’t visit YouTube. I couldn’t check the weather to see how long the storm would take. 

And I was happy about it.

This is because lately, I’ve seen the enemy and the enemy is called digital distraction. And while I have very expensive tech, including an iPhone XS Max, I keep my laptop and my phone locked in a backpack. And the backpack has a real lock, with a key. And I put the backpack in my closet while the key somewhere else. This is how I remind myself to stay the fuck away from technology.

I don’t have a phobia for technology but it is no surprise that product designers are nowadays also very good behavioural psychologists. And in designing their apps and products, they create incentives and feedback loops that makes us use them more and more.

In other words – they engineer addiction.

And while you think Facebook is there to make your life a better place, brilliant people with diplomas in social economics and psychology and behavioural analysis spend their days and nights thinking of how to get you to spend more time in the app.

YouTube is the same. LinkedIn is the same. Everyone is the same. Everyone wants you to spend more time glued to your device, consuming their content, because most apps nowadays are free. But free is just another name for advertising and when you have a free app, your income is directly tied to how much time your user base spends on the platform.

And guess what?

We’ve became digital zombies.

And we live in denial. We say it isn’t so.

You could give up your phone anytime right? Also, what does spending a few minutes on Facebook hurt you? You keep touch with friends and family. So is Instagram.

But statistics say otherwise. 

We check our phone in average about 150 times a day. The average time spent on a mobile phone is close to five hours, per day. And in my own case, if I am to look at Screen Time which Apple so graciously provided, my time spent was an average of seven hours a day and I actually know people who do a lot more.

I know people who can’t spend ten minutes without checking their phone and who live in a constant state of anxiety and worry – what if someone calls them? What if they get an important notification? What if they miss something?

We’re zombies and we’re too in love with our addictive behaviour to even admit it. Actually, we blame everyone else for being digital zombies while not taking a look at our own behaviour. 

So a few days ago, I’ve tried an experiment.

A complete day without technology. 

No Netflix, no phone, no laptop, no smartwatch. Nothing.

And it was hard because I had to confront the harsh truth. I am addicted. And I have fears. I have anxieties. I am in pain. I have existential dread. And I need YouTube and Facebook and Netflix to escape all those negative emotions and to feel good about myself.

I need to keep my mind busy because fighting my demons is way too hard.

But in that time, I’ve had so many a-ha moments and after I’ve got past the hardest part, it actually felt easy. I started to appreciate the silence.

Now, most fuckers in this world think – big deal, I can do that anytime. Actually, no. They’re just in denial. We’re so hooked to technology. We’re like people who smoke two packs a day and they’re not willing to admit to others they have a problems. 

Very few people I know have a healthy relationship with technology. Most pull their phone out each time they have a few free minutes. Most girls I know would feel more naked without their iPhone than without their underwear.

Phones and apps, for worse, not better, have become an integral part of our lives. We’ve become addicted to the stream of information and being addicted.

And yes… there is the other rationale that we can use our phones for good, to earn money and educate ourselves and so on.

I agree! Fully! And how many minutes you’ve spent this week on TED? How many minutes you’ve spent this week on Coursera or on the Kindle app of your phone?

Sure phones can be used for good… but they aren’t. 

They’re used for porn and games and social media and news. I’ve used my smartphone a lot more on porn sites lately than I’ve used it to learn anything useful and I’m fine admitting it. At least I’m not a hypocrite. I admit I have a problem and I work towards solving it. This is more than I can say about most people.

Technology addiction is a real thing and some technology is a lot more dangerous to us than others. Because all those hours on Netflix and Facebook and YouTube actually hurt you. They hurt you in an direct way (messing with your emotions and creating an unhealthy inner world) and from an opportunity cost perspective (what are all the wonderful things you could do without tech?)

So slowly… I’ve started to take a no or low tech perspective.

I use a Kindle to read. I could use an iPad but on the iPad I end up playing video games and watching YouTube. Good luck doing that on a Kindle.

I leave my phone at home most of the time. I admit it, it is damn unpractical because we live in such a connected world. Transportation sucks without having a phone. But those few hours in which I’m out of reach and disconnected are heaven, heaven I tell you.

I’m done with fitness apps and measuring steps and so on. All of those things make you feel like you accomplish something but the truth is if you want to actually improve your fitness, it takes a bit more than walking an extra 3000 steps a day. So I got myself a personal trainer at the gym, who costs a lot more than a FitBit but who actually gets me in shape.

Now I’ve ordered one of those old school text processors, keyboards with screens that are not computers. I can write on them and that’s all. And since I am a direct response copywriter, this is what I’m supposed to do, write. Write and not check the Facebook marketplace or YouTube as I’m doing now.

I do carry my Apple Watch and I’ve loaded it with music and audiobooks. It can’t do much else without being tethered to a phone and I’m fine with it. If I am to entertain myself, listening to audiobooks is amazing (now I’m listening to Aftershocks by Marko Kloos, one of my favourite military sci-fi writers, and on my Kindle I’m reading Gerald’s Game by Stephen King. I’m at 70% and I’m afraid to keep reading. Literally). 

And yes, living disconnected is damn hard and it makes you feel all kind of bad emotional stuff like anxiety and even dread. BUT you create a lot of space for good things to happen, adventure, connection, big realisations, SLEEP, fitness, reading, deep work and so on. Once you free all those hours from purely mindless entertainment, you end up having time and energy to invest in what matters a lot more.

Look, my end goal is to use a laptop and phone when I absolutely need it. I honestly believe that starring at the wall is an infinitely better use of my time and energy than it is to constantly bombard my mind with information input. My mind needs space to grow and evolve and make connections and I can’t do that if I’m inputting the equivalent of one book every day of random stuff in it through social media and consumption websites.

Your freedom will come from separating yourself from technology so you can live a life worth living. A life in which emotions come from actual events, from something that is happening, not from something that you’re observing.

I have a long way to go there… but at least, I’m struggling to break free of these chains that captured our psyches.

Razvan

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