Why You’re Addicted to Technology and Can’t Do Anything About It

A teacher in Louisiana recently asked her second graders to write about a product they wish had never been invented. Four out of her 21 students said the phone, referring to their parents’ excessive screen time. They see us.

Sitting hunched over our smartphones, tablets, and laptops is terrible for our posture, causes eye strain, and affects our sleep. It can also affect your relationships and contribute to anxiety and depression. Of course, we all know this, but limiting our exposure is easier said than done — it can feel like an unbeatable addiction.

The biggest reason why it’s so hard to quit is that these sites are designed to encourage lingering — engagement is their primary metric. Knowing their methods can help you resist these measures and get on with your life.

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google (and former magician), explained in a Medium piece about how technology exploits our weaknesses just like a magician takes advantage of our blind spots. He even warned about this phenomenon at Google back in 2013 with a slide deck called “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention.”

As he explained in a recent New York Magazine article, tech companies pursue growth at any cost, even if that means disrupting users’ attention spans, sleep patterns, and productivity. What started as a simple business model – build a platform to connect and entertain people – has become a venue to feed people’s addiction. The puppet has become the master.

Tech companies take advantage of our FOMO (fear of missing out) and our need for approval, while also constantly cueing us to add friends and interact with their posts. One expert, Dr. Larry Rosen, thinks our obsession with technology stems from anxiety — and picking up our phone or checking our inbox relieves it. Rosen is a professor emeritus at California State University, and his latest book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, explores the connection between our brains and technology.

Once you recognize why social media feels addictive — the constant seeking of rewards (likes, shares, DMs, new messages) – you can intentionally ignore the signals and focus on the book you’re reading, or the work you’re doing, or the person at your side.

Here are a few tips to take control of your time and quit your smartphone addiction:

  • Track the amount of time you spend on your smartphone using Rescuetime or another tool. “It’s . . . about being aware of your usage and vowing to cut down — so you’re in control and it doesn’t negatively affect the rest of your life,” David Greenfield, Ph.D., founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction told Women’s Health. Once you see how much time you’re devoting to scrolling through funny GIFs, it’s easier to change your behavior.
  • Put it on your schedule. It may sound silly, but allowing yourself 10-15 minutes to scan social media and notifications can help you get back to what you need to do. Rather than check every notification as it comes in, you can take care of them in batches. Set a timer, and put away the phone when the time’s up. You can even use it as a small reward when you get things done from your to-do list.
  • Use software to prevent you from visiting certain sites (or even the whole web) that tend to draw you in, such as Work Mode or StayFocusd. Use your smartphone’s Do Not Disturb feature to eliminate or reduce notifications. Manage the types of push notifications you receive, and consider turning them off — you don’t need to know every time someone likes your Instagram vacation photo.
  • Delete your most time-consuming apps, such as Facebook or Twitter. You can still check in using the mobile site, but it’s easier to forget if you don’t have an app icon tempting you from your home screen.
  • Keep your phone out of the bedroom (or at least silenced).
  • Schedule activities where you can’t use your phone, such as going to the movies, playing sports, or doing crafts.
  • Read “real” books rather than e-books. Untether yourself from your devices. Break out some board games rather than relying on mobile games for your competitive entertainment.
  • Rally your friends and family to do the same. Ban all devices from the dinner table or when socializing. It’s too easy to see someone else on their phone and decide you have to check too.