You're waiting in line. You're on a train. You're sitting in an Uber. You're standing in a TSA line. What's the first thought that comes to mind? It's probably not, Ah, I'm going to take this time to simply be in the present moment.

If you're like most of us, it's probably a thought that leads you to pull out your smartphone. It's a thought like, "I wonder if she texted back." "I wonder if that email landed." "I wonder if there's any breaking news." "I wonder what's happening on Instagram."

BJ Fogg knows a thing or two about this modern condition of smartphone addiction. He created the "Persuasive Tech Lab" at Stanford University, a research center that shaped a generation of entrepreneurs and product designers, including Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the founders of Instagram.

So when Fogg makes a prediction about technology, it's worth paying attention.

Let's unpack that for a moment. Fogg is essentially predicting a complete 180 degree shift in the social norms surrounding technology.

In the early days of the smartphone, being glued to your device was a sign of status. Staring into the screen of your Blackberry in 2008 meant something. It meant you were important. It meant you had things to do. It meant you were in the vanguard class of technology users.

But now, as we approach 2020, smartphoning seems to have lost it's status. For one thing, everyone has one. So now, if you're the person lost in your screen at the beginning of a meeting, you're no longer a special, early adopter, on the cutting edge. You're just distracted and "checked out." 

For another, we've begun to understand the dirty truth about these technologies. Thanks to a growing body of evidence, we now know that these devices often work against, rather than, for us. Somewhere around 50 percent of the notifications they produce distract us from the task at hand. They diminish our cognitive performance and memory. They make us unsafe on the road

And, worst of all, having a smartphone is like walking around with a slot machine in your pocket. It's designed to be a constant source of novelty and "variable rewards." Slot machines do this by producing novelty each time you pull the lever, which is enough to hook the gambling addict. 

Smartphones do this by producing novelty each time you open your email, Facebook, Instagram, or the news, which is enough to keep you hooked on behaviors that distract you from the things that really matter in life: your highest priority work, your family, the experience of being present to life itself.

These hard facts of smartphone usage explain why Fogg's bold prediction might just be right on. They show why staring at your phone is shifting from a high-status behavior -- a marker of success, initiative, and innovation -- to a low-status addiction -- an indicator of a distracted mind, a lack of will, and an addiction to the base pleasures that come from Tic Toc memes, outrageous political posts on Facebook, or meaningless SnapChat conversations.

How to Create a Post-Digital Life

There are countless ways to interrupt your behavioral addiction to your smartphone. 

The first is to become aware of your unconscious habits. You can do this by looking at your usage data. Or you can just pay more attention to the urges that drive you to pick up your phone in the first place. See what happens when you feel that almost irresistible compulsion to pull out your phone. And then see what happens when you resist.  

The second is to set limits. Try putting away the phone during meals. Try going for an hour or two each morning after waking up without touching your phone. Try removing all the addictive apps from your home screen. Try blocking out time for uninterrupted work at the beginning of each day. Try leaving your phone at home when you go for a run or a walk.

The final step is to use social accountability. Have your partner, co-workers, or friends call you out each time you interrupt them to look at the latest text, email, or breaking news update. 

The real goal isn't to become higher status. It's to become less enslaved by the technologies in your pocket, more free to pay attention to the things that really matter in business and in life.

Published on: Dec 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.