Have you ever heard of e-toxing? No? Until recently, neither had I. The other day I had one of the best UberX drivers I’ve had—someone funny that I didn’t mind talking to and one who genuinely had great stories to tell. In talking she made the passing commentary, “I just don’t do a lot of that ‘social’ online stuff. I like to actually experience things. Now, when you go out all you ever see is people with their faces buried in screens.” Instantly, I recognized myself in her comments.
I am that person—I am addicted to my screens. The first thing I do when I wake up is look at my phone, then I work at my laptop all day, and even if I step away or leave to get coffee, I’ll catch myself staying “connected” on my phone. And at night, my screen is the last thing I see before going to bed. During conversational lulls, I’ll usually defer to my phone. I constantly am checking my screens, seeing what’s “new,” making sure I don’t miss something, monitoring email or favoriting something on Twitter. I mean, more than 6,000 tweets are sent every second—of course I need to stay up-to-date!
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In further reflection on my UberX driver’s astute observation, I realized something else. Many times, I really don’t even truly care that much about what I’m looking at when I do check my screens—it’s just something that’s become habit. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. With portable devices, staying connected is almost too convenient. We’re at a point where we don’t just consume things via our screens—our screens have begun to consume us! Even Slack, our office’s beloved communication tool has contributed to my negative screen addiction. Of course its mobile app is handy, but it also invites constant overconsumption. And as some have pointed out, if you’re not careful, it can ruin any semblance of work/life balance simply BECAUSE of its convenience.
On one hand, I depend on technology and my devices—it’s how I stay in touch with friends, it’s how I coordinate a lot of my time, it’s how I work, it’s how I get around town and meet awesome UberX drivers who send me on an introspective journey. But on the other hand, I wonder how much I’ve missed over the past few years because I was looking at a screen instead of engaging with what’s around me. I’m left wondering what I could have created in the wasted time spent consuming “just one more article,” or “just one more scroll through Facebook.” And sure, I may have snapped a great pic and posted it on Instagram while traveling, but what did I miss when I was locked into my screen to check the notification saying someone just liked it?
The even more important question moving forward, however, is how do you even stop this screen addiction?
Which brings me back around to e-toxing. In showing just how big of an issue screen addiction is, I found that the Huffington Post even has an entire section dedicated to the healthy use of technology: HuffPost Screen Sense. There, I found an article titled The 12 Step E-Tox: How To Curb Your Electronic Device Addiction, which describes how the author recognized her own addiction. It includes some very practical steps to take in order to help curb this addiction, including advice on how to get started and what to do when you realize you’ve broken the rules you set, relapsing back into your screens.
As noted in the article above, the first step of making any change in your behavior is recognizing you have a problem—and thanks to a passing comment from my UberX driver, that recognition has absolutely taken place. Not only is spending too much time in front of a screen unhealthy, but with everything so accessible via technology, it also means we often miss out on the very real, tangible world that’s around us. As one recent article put it, we’ve experienced the “death of awe.”
That is why, moving forward, I am determined to lessen the amount of time I spend in front of a screen every day. Step one, done. Step two, breaking the habit—looking up and out instead of down. So I encourage you, as you read this on whichever screen is your vice, to consider e-toxing with me. When your brain tells you that you should pick up your phone just because it’s there, don’t. As the great sage Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
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