Your Most Valuable Commodity: Stop Wasting It

The claws of addiction had latched onto me.  Even on my best days I couldn’t go more than sixty minutes without another hit, even if it meant doing so in the middle of a customer meeting or during dinner with my family.  For some the vice is nicotine.  For others, hard drugs.  For me, my iPhone.

This little device travels with me everywhere and regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, its pings, rings, and chirps perk my ears like a gazelle who senses a creeping lion.  In those moments the world around me blurs and my internal radar hones in on that single sound.  Until I acknowledge its call, it’s hard for me to focus on anything else.

Sound familiar?

Perhaps you heard a Silicon Valley executive’s recent confession during an NPR interview: The world’s leading digital and social media companies (Facebook, Google, Apple, Instagram, etc.) employ Addiction Specialists.  These addiction experts know how to hook you through methods including gamification, page layout, color scheme, and ad placement.

It makes sense.  The more eyes glued to their app the more revenue they earn.  Every minute you spend forgoing the world around you in favor of their electronic interface is a minute they’ve captured the modern world’s most valuable commodity: your attention.  Yes, your undivided attention is what your kids, your spouse, your employer, your customers, your friends, your community, and sadly, your smartphone all covet.  And of all these parties vying for your attention, only one of them employs an Addiction Specialist who knows how to flood your brain with shots of dopamine.

Darn it!  I hate it when I’ve been duped and this little inanimate object snuck right up and bit me in the ass.

Digital addiction is real and the side effects read like the final ten seconds of those pharmaceutical commercials:

  • Depression,
  • Weight gain,
  • Feelings of anxiety,
  • Open mouth breathing*
    *OK, I added this last one but next time you see a group of people scrolling through their phones at an airport gate or a restaurant, check it out.  Gross.

A century ago Coca-Cola dabbled with addictive draws by lacing its beverage with cocaine.
Fifty years ago tobacco companies mastered the art of addiction through nicotine.
A decade ago we learned food companies are hooking us on sugar.
And today we discover smartphones are jumping on the addition bandwagon via engaging interfaces that (wrongly) convince us that whatever’s blaring on a digital screen is more attention worthy than the world around us – even when we’re driving.

How can we fight back?  Completely unplugging from the digital world may be unrealistic but here are four tactics I’ve employed that are helping:

  1. Kill auto-notifications.
    A good place to begin: your email. The default setting in Microsoft Outlook is for your computer to ping with a notification and pop-up window every time a note hits your inbox.  This is ridiculous.  Can you really afford to have your undivided attention diverted every time an email hits?  Turn that feature off.  (Same goes for text messages!)
  2. Work offline.
    The only time you should be accepting new emails is when YOU decide it’s time to do so. Outlook’s default setting is for your email to always be ON (are you seeing a pattern here?) so learn how to turn it OFF and work in offline mode.
  3. Every night, issue to your phone a Protection From Abuse order.
    Just as judges issue PFA’s to abusive spouses, be the judge who issues the same order every night to your phone. For me, that order hits at 7:30pm, at which point I lock it up until the next business day.  **Note: If your smartphone is within earshot of your bedroom you’re a sucker.
  4. Old School B&W
    Of all the tricks I’ve tried this one has surprisingly been among the most effective. Buried in your phone’s setting is a feature to drain all color and convert it into a black & white interface.  You’ll be amazed at how uninteresting your phone becomes when you drain its color.  Since making this switch a month ago, my senseless phone browsing has fallen more than 50%.
    **iPhone color hack: Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Display Accommodations -> Color Filters “on”


Summing it all up in a powerful mantra: Be where your feet are.

Dull your smartphone, not your senses, and watch the world around you burst into living color.