I wonder what email, text messaging, and social media has done, and will do, to our human psyche. There’s no doubt that these things have made us all more prone to distraction in our daily lives. They also give us a constant excuse to check out and not be present in a conversation. What is this doing to our interpersonal relationships and – more importantly – our self image and awareness?
We purchase phones and tablets and configure our email, text messaging, and our favorite apps on them. After all — they are cool little devices, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to send and receive email, chat with friends and family, and play games. The underlying purpose of these technologies is to connect with one another. And I think that is, fundamentally, a good thing.
However, I can’t help but think about how often I see people who feel compelled to check each and every ding, beep, blurp and sound that comes out of their devices. All day long. Every single time. They feel obligated to constantly check their phone and the messages coming from it. I see people who literally never take a break from their devices. It’s always in their pocket or on the counter, waiting for them…staring at them. I am getting anxious right now just thinking about the potential for my phone to ding.
Marketing companies take advantage of the fact that every time we get a message, we get a dopamine hit. We want to feel good. We want to feel wanted. We love it when he hear that ping sound and know that someone needs us. We all want to feel connected to others.
Technology has also made it more difficult to distinguish and draw lines between our personal and professional lives. If you have a personal email configured on your devices, you likely have your work email configured as well. We’re constantly being bombarded with a metric ton of digital crap flying at us from every direction.
Even though I understand it from a physiological and biological perspective, it sort of annoys me when I think about people who feel that compelled to check every single message. I know people who cannot even sit through a movie or dinner without checking their phone. They are, quite simply, addicted.
At some point, I urge you to put down your phone and become disciplined about how you respond to messages. Do this for your mental health. It is not good for you. The constant stimulation of the dopamine system is not only exhausting, but will affect your overall psychological well-being1. It’s called a dopamine loop, and it’s in your best interest to get out of it.
Some Techie Tricks to Stabilize Your Dopa Hits
If you have had enough of computerized distractions in your life and are ready to stabilize your physiology and psychological well-being, try some of the following tips and techniques to improve your life:
- As soon as you configure your email client (Outlook, Gmail, Apple, or Android mail), turn off the notifications for your email. Get in the habit of checking your email when you want to, not when it dings and “calls you”. Notification settings can oftentimes be found in the app itself or in the settings menu on your device.
- Better yet, turn off the badges (small numbers showing the number of messages/notifications waiting) for your email AND any other application you don’t really need to check on a constant basis. You can typically disable badges and notifications in the settings menu.
- Realize that most items truly can wait. If someone really, really needs to get in touch with you, they will probably call you or text you. Ultimately, you should control which “channels” someone is allowed to reach you on, and when. Trust me, there is no urgency in learning about the latest Candy Crush Saga move or discovering that 45 people liked your last Instagram post.
The bottom line is that you can set up your technology so that you are in charge of checking messages and notifications when you want to, and not when the app developers and phones want you to. Don’t let everyone and everything co-opt your time all day long. Stabilize. Free your mind. Make time for yourself. You’ll be happier and thank me later.
- 1 Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson, What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience?: Brain Research Reviews, 28, 1998. 309–369.