Friday , January 12, 2018 - 5:00 AM
CHICAGO — You know internet addiction is a real thing when you pick up a magazine targeted at young men and you find a "My Digital Detox" confessional.
Writing in Men's Health, author Joel Stein describes addiction to screens so profound that people have neglected showering for weeks or been kicked out of their homes for not doing anything besides playing video games.
Stein checked himself into a rehab facility for online addicts after learning that he uses his phone for two and a half hours per day, not including the hours spent on his laptop. Afterward, he understood that the firehose of digital stimuli had dulled his real-life senses: "I had gotten so weak at feeling emotions that I'd gotten bad at feeling happy, too."
There are now piles of research showing that people who spend a lot of time on social media feel more depression, inadequacy and dissatisfaction with their lives than those who don't.
The constant exposure to posts that were specially crafted to make their users look flawless, happy, affluent and exciting either causes people to feel bad about themselves or, particularly in the case of young adults, increases their levels of anxious striving.
According to one recent study published in the American Psychological Association's "Psychological Bulletin," perfectionism has increased over the past 27 years among college students. The authors "speculate that this may be because, generally, American, Canadian and British cultures have become more individualistic, materialistic and socially antagonistic over this period, with young people now facing more competitive environments, more unrealistic expectations, and more anxious and controlling parents than generations before."
Add to this the beginning-of-year assumption that self-improvement is essential for a worthwhile 2018, and there has been a crush of hand-wringing articles, editorials and blog posts about needing to do something about social and digital media dependency.
It's a good idea to quell an addiction, however small, to electronic devices. But the usual roadblock to making positive, healthy changes — at the new year or any other time — is that our approach is almost always to reduce, restrict or abstain. It's one that usually fails.
How about adding on to your digital duties instead?
Here are a few of the "fix it and forget it" type of resolutions you can make:
1. Adjust your social media and email notifications — on your mobile devices as well as on your desktop and laptop — so that you get only truly important intrusive alerts, like texts from close family members or emails from bosses or direct reports.
2. Spend some time "muting," "unfollowing" or otherwise quieting down people on your social networks who you want to stay in touch with over the long haul but whose every angry missive about the day's politics makes you crazy.
3. Invest some real effort into adjusting your phone, tablet, laptop and desktop settings so that your apps can't listen in on your conversations via their microphones and/or cameras.
(No, this is not paranoid: Hundreds of seemingly innocuous games are loaded with a software from a company called Alphonso that allows the apps to use smart-device microphones to collect data on people's viewing habits — even when the apps are not in use.)
Now for two that are less of a drag, though still might require some habit-forming discipline:
1. Phone a friend. Next time you think to drop someone a text just to say "Hi," try a quick phone call instead. Chances are, the person you call will be delighted to hear your actual voice. Neither of you is likely to gab endlessly (we’re all busy) and you'll probably feel really good at the end.
2. Write something. I frequent a restaurant where a little black book is delivered along with the check. You are encouraged to leave a note for whomever might read the book next. It's always so much fun to see others' scribbles, their drawings, their praise for the wait staff or even a poem here or there. If you have a busy family life with people in and out of the house at all hours, leave a blank journal in a high traffic area with a "Write in Me" sign on it and just see what magically appears.
Curbing your digital routines doesn't have to be painful. The only sure way to make a lasting change is to create positive habits to help offset the negative ones.
Esther Cepeda's email address is email@example.com.
(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group
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