Fight the habit

How do you use technology? And how does technology itself use you?

These are some of the many questions that has been circulating through my mind about our usage of technology. Is it really benefitting us, or is it hurting us?

I’m sure we have all experienced it: You’re spending some time with your good pals and everyone decides to pull out their phones in order to scroll through the plethora of social media apps, searching for the next funny tweet or Internet meme worthy to show off for a couple of chuckles. The eerie silence fills the room while everyone is staring into their screens, waiting for someone to bring up something even mildly interesting to save them from the tension. The time goes by and it happens more often, but why?

Why do we have the urge to constantly check our phones? Have our conversations and relationships naturally become so dull and bland? Or have we forgotten how to keep and establish those relationships that we make in reality?

Smartphones and tablets are becoming less of a commodity and more of a necessity due to the fast-paced society we live in today, but our obsessive usage is ruining our social consciousness and relationships with others. Our constant finger-swiping has made us more detached from society than ever before, and without a reform of technology etiquette, I’m afraid we may never reach that quality of human relationships ever again.

It’s hard to take ourselves away from our devices. New York–based app, Locket, compiled data on how often their more than 150,000 users unlocked their phones, according to an article in the Daily Mail. They found that the average user unlocks their phone around nine times per hour at peak times. They also stated that during these peak times (between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.), some people unlock once every six or seven seconds. On average, users check their phone 110 times per day, but some users unlock their devices up to 900 times over the course of a day, which, when accounting for sleep, is around 18 hours. That is 18 hours of interruption and attention that could’ve been used more productively for your own benefit, whether that be reading a book, enjoying the sun or even finishing that last paragraph of your essay due in two hours. If you’re me, that’s essentially 18 hours of more potential nap time opportunities.

What is there to do? Smartphones and technology have become essential in our everyday lives. Every social, political, and economic aspect of life is constantly being intertwined online with social media in forms of hashtags for public campaigns, customer feedback and almost every detail in your life that they can squeeze out.

The solution is to reform our usage. We need to set a new standard for etiquette when using our technology. Set a time in the day where you stay away from technology. When eating with others, put the phone on silent. Understand what makes you constantly check your notifications in order to prevent it.

I’m not saying to chuck your phones and tablets into the trash. Instead, we should be able to acknowledge our compulsions. According to a 2011 study published in the journal, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, people aren’t addicted to smartphones, they are addicted to “checking habits” that develop with phone use, including repeatedly (and very quickly) checking for news updates, emails or social media connections.

That study found that certain environmental triggers, like being bored or listening to a three-hour lecture, can trigger the habits. This study found that the average user checks his or her smartphone 35 times a day for about 30 seconds each time, when the information rewards are greater (e.g., having contact info linked to the contact’s whereabouts), users check even more often.

If we can implement a reformed etiquette, we could see profound impacts on our world today. People can be more aware of their surroundings, better at concentrating and comprehending, and develop back into the once vibrant age of human interaction that existed before the iPhones and androids stampeded into our lives.

I am writing this today as someone who did become a victim to my own technology. I realized how my conversations with people got shorter, favorite hobbies of mine were put aside to collect dust, and life just wasn’t the exhilarating journey that I used to wake up excited for anymore. I was lucky enough to have others help me pull away and I thank them for it.

I plead with you all to not become victim to these compulsions. Whether it be friends, family, your pets (pets need love too), or a stranger waiting in line with you, don’t be afraid to put your phone back into your pocket and start up a conversation. If you really cared about the people who you spend your time with, give them your complete attention. You may be surprised by what happens.