Humans are social creatures. No matter how introverted some of us claim to be, we still take pleasure in being part of a group — in interacting and forming connections and social distancing hasn’t stopped that, we’ve just found new ways to interact, like video calls and streaming parties. But although our mobile devices have become must-haves in the era of Corona, it really begs the question: What does this mean for our future? Are we going to come out of this lockdown even more reliant on technology than before?
How did we get here?
In recent years, tech addiction has been a slowly mounting problem. The average Indian spends over 1800 hours a year on their smartphones. That’s equal to 75 days, almost two and a half months! Most people reach for their phones within 30 seconds of waking up, and the phone is the last thing that they interact with before they go to bed. Many of us even take it into the restroom, and in the last 10 years, the amount of time people spend in restrooms has nearly doubled. The statistics really paint a troubling picture.
The underlying cause is what is commonly known as the ‘Attention Economy’. It works like this:
- An app vies for your attention, trying to get you to download and use it
- It aggregates the attention across millions of users
- It sells that attention to advertisers
It might not sound so bad, hypothetically, but what if we give it some context? Let’s assume there are 500 million internet users in India. Each of these users spend 2 hours a day on their phones — so a billion hours a day overall. Now let’s assume that every one of these people clicks on 1 paid link an hour, and the app gets 5 Rupees for each click. That means these apps are making 5 billion Rupees every hour — roughly 20 billion USD a year. All from that one hour of attention and interaction. That’s a lot more shocking, isn’t it?
Now we’re not saying technology is all bad. Smartphones and other devices are powerful and useful tools that help us stay connected and work more efficiently. The problem begins when we get to a point where we can’t put them down. And people are beginning to realize it. Most Silicon Valley executives restrict their kids’ access to smart devices, and many former executives of social media companies have spoken out about the impact of these platforms on mental health. And this technology does have an impact, even if you don’t realize it.
The impact of tech addiction — and how to get over it!
If you’re one of the 20% of smartphone users who spend over four and a half hours a day on screen time, you may notice several physiological, psychological, and social changes that affect your life. It may be harder to sleep at night, for example. Or you may find yourself becoming more depressed and anxious the more you use your devices. The performative nature of social media can also create intense feelings of loneliness and Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), yet at the same time create a distance between your real-world friends and family. And in the current era of COVID, it has even more insidious implications, as we turn to digital media to keep up with the news. The constant checking of stats only compounds the fear and anxiety associated with the situation.
So what can you do about it? Well, you may want to start by asking yourself these questions:
- Do you use social media to escape personal problems or avoid thinking about them?
- Do you become restless or frustrated quickly if you don’t have access to your phone or are unable to use social media?
- Do you notice your use of social media is increasing every day?
- Do you find that it hurts your productivity?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is “yes”, then it might be time to take a step back. Because the good news is that you can combat tech addiction. Something as simple as being aware of how many times you check your phone, and consciously making an effort to stop, can significantly cut down on your phone time. It may be hard at first, but over time, it’ll become a habit. Establishing a good routine also helps. Many of us turn to our phones when we’re bored, so creating a routine around an activity that requires you to be disciplined, such as yoga, can give you something to do that doesn’t involve your phone. And as an added bonus, the physical activity can help counteract some of the negative side effects of mobile addiction. Finally, you can make little changes to your daily life that make you less reliant on your phone. For example, you could:
- Move emails to desktop only
- Disable notifications
- Don’t take your phone to meetings, and turn off your WhatsApp web notifications during video calls
- Don’t touch your phone for the first hour of your day
- Set limits for various apps and use a phone usage tracker to help stick to it
- Have block-out periods throughout the day, when you don’t use your phone at all
The future of tech dependency after CoVid-19
This brings us back to one of our earlier worries. What does this reliance on tech to get us through lockdown and quarantine mean for our future? Well, there are two distinct paths our society could take. One would be that we fall even further into our dependence on technology to interact and get things done. After all, we’re managing pretty well in near-isolation because of the capabilities of tech. But we could go the other way. This lockdown period has opened many people’s eyes to the importance of face-to-face interactions; of coordinating through in-person meetings or actually taking time to go out with friends. People are turning away from social media and CoVid stats when they become overwhelming. And they’re picking up new skills that don’t require them to spend all day looking at a screen. So yes, life after lockdown could be one that relies more than ever on technology, but we have hope that instead we take the opportunity to cut back, and focus more on the human connections we’ve missed during this time.