It’s been a while since I have written an article for my blog. I’ve been telling myself to write something since March! Talk about procrastination! Here it is May, and I am finally getting my act together. Typically, I like to have something inspirational to get me going on a topic. Every time I think I have an idea, I talk myself out of it. Instead, I keep coming back to the concept of digital dependency. I believe the universe presents us with opportunities or speaks to us in various ways. Often we chose to ignore our inner voice. I have decided perhaps to get over this little writing block; I need to address the topic I keep stifling, digital dependency.
A few weeks ago our counseling center co-sponsored an event on campus called, Digital Detox Day. It was an opportunity for students to recognize the signs of a digital addiction and take some time to detox. I did not participate in the event or even stop by, but the program advertisement made me think about my relationship to the digital world.
For several years, I have owned a smartphone and an iPad simultaneously. I still seemed to read at a regular rate of multiple books a year. In the last two years, it has been hard for me to even get through three books in a year. “All the Light We Cannot See” has been sitting in my office to read during lunch for the entire academic year. I am still only partially through it. Previously, I would have a book by my bed at night, and I would read a little before falling asleep. Sometimes I would get so involved, read more than I should, and pay for it the next day. I haven’t been doing that either. So what changed in the last two or three years? Digital dependency is the answer. For me, this ranges from checking social media with my readily available iPad or iPhone, aimlessly surfing the web or YouTube, to binge watching shows with my husband in the evening. Before I used to be able to discuss books and offer suggestions for a good summer read, now I can only offer Premium Channel, Netflix, and Amazon suggestions. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but I miss my books.
Digital dependency, is it a thing? About five years ago, a visibly fidgety student was in my office. When I asked him if everything was okay, he responded that he had cut himself off from his cell phone for a while, and was only on day two. He told me that although his phone was in a drawer in his room, he had the sensation of his cell phone vibrating in his pocket. He was experiencing a “phantom limb” phenomenon similar to amputation patients. I will admit, at the time, I thought he was overly dramatic. I couldn’t imagine how someone could become so connected to an inanimate object that they would feel that type of sensation, anxiety, or loss. Today, I would not be so quick to judge. I have learned and have seen firsthand, that digital dependency is alive and well.
Even this week I read an interesting article regarding digital addiction in younger kids, “Its ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.” So, with all these things going through my mind, I created an unscientific list of warning signs for digital dependency:
- Feeling or fear of missing out. Are you restless if you leave your phone at home or the battery has run out?
- Concealing your cell phone usage. Do you sneak off to get a look at what’s happening on social media?
- Eye, neck, and shoulder pain from straining to look at a screen while always looking down.
- Do you have trouble completing tasks at home or work due to more time spent on your phone?
- Isolation and loneliness. Do you spend less time with family and friends or find yourself distracted in conversations because you are checking your phone at the same time.
As I look at my list, I do recognize a few warning signs for myself. Occasionally, I do feel stiffness or tired after prolonged periods of looking at my phone. Obviously, number four hits home as I have missed out on something I enjoy – reading. And, I have to admit shamefully, that I am guilty of number five too. It reminds me of a night when I took my daughter to a Taylor Swift concert. I hadn’t been to a concert in ages, and this was her first. Consumed with the idea of posting it all on social media and taking pictures, I justified these actions by telling myself I was “preserving the memory.” In the end, the photos and videos were crap. I deleted most of them. Instead, I should have just “been in the moment.”
Enough is enough. Who wants to experience a “phantom limb” sensation over a silly phone? Life is right in front of us. I have two wonderful summer vacations planned. I want to preserve these trips in photos and at the same time, remember the moments. During our trips, I don’t want to be caught up in what I could be missing at home nor do I need to post everything we are doing. It can wait. If I must post our vacations, which I will want to do too, I can set real-time posting limitations and commit to post-vacation postings. Additionally, I am challenging myself to finish that book in my office along with one possible two others before summer is over. I am going to put down the phone, stop the binge watching long enough to enjoy a past-time I used to love. What can you do to detox digitally? I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and challenges. Oh, and I could use some summer reading suggestions.