Digital Dependency

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:Digital Dependency

  1. Feeling or fear of missing out. Are you restless if you leave your phone at home or the battery has run out?
  2. Concealing your cell phone usage. Do you sneak off to get a look at what’s happening on social media?
  3. Eye, neck, and shoulder pain from straining to look at a screen while always looking down.
  4. Do you have trouble completing tasks at home or work due to more time spent on your phone?
  5. 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.


Know Your Numbers

Have you ever watched Shark Tank? Honestly, it’s not a show I watch, but I’ve seen it enough to know that the Sharks are always asking about numbers.  You may even hear one say in reprimand, “You must know your numbers.” Countless pitches fall apart because contestants don’t know about revenues, expenses, profits, manufacturing costs, and projections. Mostly, they need to know the budget.

The concept of budgeting has been floating around in my head for a couple of weeks. I started to realize that a lot of success hinges on the idea of a real sound budget. Obviously, the first example could be a failed business. On a smaller scale maybe you plan on buying the next iPhone, but if you don’t know the numbers in your bank account. You don’t know the cost of the phone or other factors involved with your current contract agreement.  If this were the case, it’s possible you may get in over your head.

Another budgeting example that I am all too familiar with is budgeting food for weight loss. The concept is based on a budget whether it’s points or calories; either you have 24 points to eat in a day or a 1500 calorie allotment for the day.  You could also plan to eat a certain amount of grams of protein, fruits/vegetables, and fats in a day.  Any way you look at it, it’s a budget.

Now, let me give you one more example that might help you in school. Budgeting your time, commonly referred to as time management.  Each semester some students don’t do as well as they could simply because they have poor time management skills.  They fail to budget their time wisely.

It’s still early enough in the semester to take a good look at your plan for managing time this spring. I’m going to help you take a closer look at how you spend your day.

If I asked you, “What is the importance of the number 168?” What would your answer be? (In a classroom, I would count to ten – in my head – before I called on someone.)  Ok, so do you know the answer?  Well, 168 is the number of hours in a week.  Did you get it right?  It’s ok if you didn’t.  That’s what I’m here to talk to you about.

Let’s for a minute think about all the possible things you do in the course of a week. You eat, sleep, work, study, go to class, exercise and hang out with friends.  If you commute to school or work, you can factor time in the car too.  Your calendar is full.

I used to teach a workshop to probationary college students. Students who had one semester to pull up their grades to a particular point or be dismissed from school.  I often found their reason for failure was not ineptitude, but a lack of planning.   I would tell them the recommendation for college students is 2-3 hours of study for every 1 hour in class.  To put this in relative terms if you have three credits (hours) for a class, you should study 6-9 hours.  If you have 15 credits, then you should be studying 30-45 hours a week. At that, their eyes would pop out of their head. Some would even laugh at me. I think I can even see your eyes bulging too.  Full-time college enrollment is like having a full-time job.  As a matter of fact, you should take it as seriously as you would a full-time job.

Now that we have that disparaging fact out of the way let’s look at the possibilities for you. I’m going to ask you to think about your calendar, the hours in a day/week, and give you a tool to budget your time.  The link below is a tool from Ohio University that I found to be the best online worksheet to examine “unaccounted for” hours in your week.  These are hours that could be re-assigned to studying.  I think you may be surprised at how much time you have!

Before you begin, here are some instructions:

In the first section on Academics – be honest about the amount of time you intend on studying – per week – for each class. I’m not looking over your shoulder. You don’t need to falsify your answers.  If you will only study 1 hour for a class, write that down. Be honest.

In the second section, on Fixed Activities – remember these are hours per week. You will need to multiply by 7 in most cases.  An example of the “other” category could be exercise or working out.

I would love to hear how much flexible time you have left. Generally, I hear 20-40 hours.  Surprising, right?  And this activity factors in sleep!  Think about how you are spending that extra time.  The answer to that is often hanging with friends, games, social media, etc. These are all areas that you can commit to re-budget toward your academics.

Now you know your numbers. You have the necessary tool for successful time management.  If you would like more tips on budgeting time for a successful semester or have some tools of your own, I’d love to hear from you.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” – Ben Franklin