How Is Your Smartphone Like a Slot Machine?
By keeping you connected regardless of location, your gadgets are supposed to make you more productive and less stressed.
But perhaps you have a creeping sense they're starting to do the opposite. Perhaps your better half is starting to get grumpy when you pull your smartphone out at restaurants or maybe you're starting to sense that all that time you spend checking email and social media during the day is eating into the time you could be doing other things--including bigger-picture thinking about your business.
How do you know if you're really addicted to your technology? If you decide that you need to cut back, how can you manage to keep your gadget-related compulsions in check? After all, you're an entrepreneur; you're not going to chuck your cell phone in the trash and go live in a cabin in the wilderness.
First off, take comfort in the fact that you're in good company. Many start-up big-wigs from the heart of America's technology capital, Silicon Valley, have come out in public as concerned about their tech addiction. Then, take the advice of Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal and check yourself for the signs of real addiction.
She recently explained the symptoms to watch out for in an interview in Stanford Knowledgebase:
There is a common feeling, whether it is a drug or food or shopping or technology. If you pay attention to what is happening in your mind and body, you notice a free-floating anxiety, and then a sense of urgency, especially when separated from the object of addiction: "I have to have it now," or "I have to keep clicking or checking." It's more like panic than a positive desire. It's that physical quality of being out of control. And importantly, no matter how much you give in, it never feels like enough. There's no satisfaction. Giving in just makes you want to do it again. What used to be fun becomes joyless compulsion. Many people feel that way about their phones, Facebook, email, Twitter, online celebrity gossip, internet porn, and so on.
If that sounds like the relationship between you and your phone or laptop, McGonigal also offers some simple steps you can take to get back on a healthier footing with your tech. Fear not, serious rehab is probably not required. Instead, the key, she says, is to be mindful of but not reactive to your feelings of anxiety and need:
I recommend just paying attention to the process and how it works. Do you even know what the itch to check your phone feels like? Or do you only become aware that you're on your phone when you're sending your fifth text message?
Then I suggest two things: You need to set a support structure for yourself. In the same way you wouldn't keep junk food in your cabinet if you're trying to improve your health, you should think of ways to put the phone away. Put it in airplane mode or recruit other people to remind you that you made a commitment to not text while driving.
Second: Surf the urge. Pay attention to what it feels like in your body and to your breathing. Think of the urge like a wave you are going to surf, and breathe through it. Like a wave, it will crash and dissolve. Cravings sustain themselves when your brain and body believe you are going to give in. As soon as you make a commitment not to, it begins to change how the brain is processing the craving. This approach has been shown to help people conquer all kinds of cravings, from food to cigarettes.
How would you categorize your relationship with technology: Healthy, unhealthy, or somewhere in between?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.