If you think that you aren't emotionally and psychologically connected to your phone, tablet, computer, and cable/internet hookup, you're kidding yourself. Try a quick digital cleanse and see just how long you last and how painful the experience is. When they update the psychiatric literature about this period in our civilization, expect one big change in Maslow's traditional hierarchy of needs, which used to stack five primary requirements: bodily needs, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
Among other things that the Covid-19 pandemic and WFH have made clear is that the new Maslow pyramid will have to make room for the massive impact that technology and social media have had on every part of our lives. It's pretty clear that web access will be foundational to the new rankings because continuous connection has become unimaginably essential and central to our lives and bears directly on virtually every one of the prior behavioral tiers in Maslow's analysis.
Sustenance, security, society, reputation, and fulfillment are all intimately intertwined these days in our interactions with our devices -- and largely unavoidable and inescapable. Ask yourself whether you think it's really worth working out if your Fitbit isn't charged and tracking your efforts. Steps that aren't measured and promptly synced are like trees falling in the forest. You can't share and smirk about what the system can't see. So what's the point?
To give you some quick idea of how extensive the problem is -- in case you didn't suffer any cable or power outages recently, misplaced a phone, or failed to sufficiently charge your devices -- try these simple experiments. But first a word of warning: These endurance tests are for mature adults only. Do not try to impose any of these harsh and harrowing hardships on any of your kids. They're just not up to the task, they'll crack like an egg, and they'll hate you for at least a week.
These are all time-based tests and I sincerely hope that you still have a clock somewhere in your house to let you know when the allotted intervals are up, because you can't use your phone or any other connected device on your wrist to check. And don't even think about asking Alexa to set a timer.
If you still have a landline phone that rings during the tests, don't sweat it -- the call will be a telemarketer, scam artist, or pollster who will most assuredly call back. Or maybe a recorded reminder message from Walgreen's or FedEx, but, for sure, it won't be any of your friends calling because they no longer have any idea of what your home phone number is or used to be. And frankly, you'd also be hard-pressed yourself to recall so many of those old familiar numbers that you used to know like the back of your hand.
When you don't use it, it's amazing how quickly you lose it. We're forfeiting more and more of these "human" skills to the machines every day. Remembering, navigating, spelling, writing in cursive, etc. are all largely gone. Most kids today can't write legibly or even clearly sign their names. And if they have any remaining use for a phone book, dictionary, or other weighty tome, it's mainly to sit on top of so they can reach the kitchen table.
Test 1: Silence and store your devices somewhere out of sight and sound for 30 minutes sometime between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Seems like anyone should be able to do without their devices for half an hour without freaking out, but you'll be distressingly surprised at just how hard it is to accomplish even this woefully modest level of withdrawal. We're all in a hurry. We're all intertwined (like it or not) much closer to 24/7 than we ever wanted to be. And being without -- even for a short interval -- produces a lot more anxiety and discomfort than you'd expect. Of course, doctors and moms and cops and stock traders can all rationalize the need to be instantly and always available, but it's a far more physical and emotional need than any vocational requirement. This is not just a convenience or a comfort but more like a compulsion and -- for our kids -- it's becoming inbred.
Test 2: Sit alone and quietly in a chair for 20 minutes without looking at your phone, screen, or other device.
Forget just the ongoing angst of FOMO. We're talking here about trying to overcome craftily manufactured addictions whose cravings are just as fierce as cigarettes were for so many stupid people in the past. Grabbing a smoke used to be not just something for nervous folks to do with their hands, or a carcinogenic diet aide for young women, but also an actual pacifier. Sucking on a cancer stick was cool and calming if you didn't care about your lungs or your future.
Today, you grab and check your phone with exactly the same kind of urgency and for much the same reasons. It will even make you much more patient in terms of waiting in line or online. Zoning out in front of the TV used to be a simple salve for sleepy couch potatoes, but now scrolling through social media serves up a slicker, swifter and more satisfying solution. And, of course, you can always multitask and do both at the same time while pretending as well that you're listening to your spouse's or significant other's ongoing commentary. Best of all, you can tell yourself that -- in some bizarre fashion -- you're also being productive.
Test 3: Resist the temptation to look at your phone or computer for 10 minutes after you hear the ring, bing, or bong from a text, email, call, or tweet.
If you think your dogs are occasionally Pavlovian, just take a quick gander at your friends and family members when their phones ring, bing, or bong. And you're most likely no better at resisting the siren's call regardless of what you happen to be doing at the time. You can think of this process as cellular interruptus. It's hard not to be distracted every time you hear that ding.
We're suckers for those sounds even though we're inevitably let down when we actually check it out. Turns out that once again today no one (except a few Nigerians) was texting to let you know that you'd inherited a million bucks from a long-lost relative. But that won't keep you from doing the same silly thing the very next time. We're like the dog chasing the car and can't really help ourselves.
Bottom line: We're seeing over and over again that we don't understand or appreciate how powerful and controlling technologies can be in our lives until it's too late to turn back or try to restrict their influence. The battle of the mobile phone is long lost. We can't live without them. Maybe if we act soon, we can save our kids from the sickness and stains of social media.