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OPINION: Phone addiction triggered by cold-turkey trip

March 29th, 2013 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

I spent this weekend away from home visiting some of the amazing places I write about each week. It was, like all travel, simultaneously exciting and challenging - new streets to navigate, names to remember, details to absorb. But one thing I did not expect to be challenging was a location-imposed break from the dinging reminders of emails, voicemails and texts. I was looking forward to that.


The first morning I arrived, I stared at my iPhone when we arrived and was somewhat shocked to see the "no service" alert on the phone. And, you see, I knew that it wasn't going to work there. But it was still a jolt.

No problem, though. There was the library, where I could connect to wifi. Emails came in. Communication happened. Ahh. Problem solved.

But then evening came, and the wonderful family I was staying with didn't have an internet connection. I thought about my cyberworld every five or 10 minutes all evening long, through wonderful conversations and children running about. When everyone went to bed, the fun really started. I picked up a book. I looked at my phone. I read a sentence. I looked at my phone. I sighed. I wondered about the texts I was missing, the important emails that were floating by without my knowing. It was agony.

A long time ago in a land far away, I smoked cigarettes. It's been 15 years since I quit the last time, but I still can remember very clearly what addiction and withdrawal felt like. And this, what I was experiencing as my phone lay silent, felt an awful lot like that. The next day, I felt tremendous relief to be at a conference where wifi allowed me access to email all day. But that evening, it was the same - the silence was deafening.

Typically, when I realize I'm developing an unhealthy attachment to something, I let it go. Coffee? Gone, after a week of headaches. Nicotine is no longer part of my life. I pay attention to how much sweets and junk food I eat (chocolate, by the way, is not junk food), and how much alcohol I consume. And truth be told, I already knew I spent more time than I needed to on Facebook. But I really didn't realize until this weekend how strong the urge was to get that jolt of dopamine that researchers say we get when our phone sings songs to us.

So, I thought to myself as I flew back to the land of free-flowing technology, finger primed over the on button on my phone, what do I do with this newfound information. I can't turn my phone off all day. My job requires me to be somewhat connected most of the time. And many of my personal relationships are enhanced by a text here and there throughout the day. If it sounds like I'm making excuses, you're right. I am.

A recent poll on the Huffington Post uncovered some alarming facts. Of 1,200 respondents, 60 percent said they spent less than two waking hours a day completely disconnected from email. A fifth of those polled said they were connected all but a half-hour of the time they are awake.

Research clearly states that when we are interrupted by emails and texts while trying to do something, we are infinitely less efficient. Our brains do much better when we focus on one thing. Constant interruptions limit our ability to be creative, to give our full attention to our children, to comprehend a difficult bit of reading. Add to that the continuous draw of information from the Internet and you get a very discombobulated stream of consciousness.

Okay, so I admit to this addiction, but what to do about it? One recommended tactic is to start by giving yourself technology-free times of day, like your lunch break, for example. These days, lunch has become that time of day when you type one-handed instead of with both hands because the other hand is busy holding your sandwich. The people who know these things say we would be much more productive - not to mention happy - if we stepped away from the computer for a little period of time now and then. So get up, and leave your phone next to your computer. Go outside. Have a conversation with a friend - a real, face-to-face one. If you can't handle an hour, start with a half hour or even 15 minutes. After a week, extend it a bit more.

As for me, I've taken two hours to write this 800-word editorial because of seven emails, three texts, two phone conversations, and three jaunts onto Facebook just to "check what was going on."

Productive? Not so much. Perhaps all those researchers have a point. I'm going to turn off my phone and my Internet browser while I write the next story. I'll let you know how it goes. If I make it.


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