With our constant use of social media, the ceaseless flow of e-mail, and the never-ending glut of must-see TV (which you can stream! and binge-watch! on your phone!), more and more of us are finding it hard to pull away from our gadgets. How in-check is your tech? Take our quiz to find out.
By Beth Levine
1. When you get up in the morning, the first thing you do is…
A) Glance at your e-mail.
B) Send a good-morning tweet to your followers, then update your status with your plan for the day.
C) Turn on the TV for background noise.
D) Sit on the edge of your bed and collect your thoughts.
2. You're at a play with friends. As the lights come up for intermission, you…
A) Realize that you missed a plot point while you were responding to texts.
B) Instagram a selfie with your friends (#frontrowseat!).
C) Pick up where you left off on Candy Crush Saga.
D) Check to see whether you missed any calls, then continue discussing the relative hotness of the actors with your friends as you head to the lobby bar.
3. You've taken a mental health day from work (a.k.a., called in stressed). You spend your time off…
A) Checking work e-mail.
B) Scrolling through the Facebook posts you missed this week. (Huh, that guy from junior high ran a marathon?)
C) Half watching reruns of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta.
D) Going to the park, beach, museum, mall, or café.
4. Your significant other asks to have a talk. You proceed to…
A) Put your phone on vibrate. He can't expect you to go totally off the grid.
B) Dash off a text to a friend: "Trouble in paradise. Stay tuned."
C) Mute Storage Wars, but leave the TV on during your talk.
D) Set aside what you're doing and give the conversation your full attention.
5. You accidentally forget your smartphone at home. You…
A) Head back to retrieve it.
B) Race to your laptop to post notes on Facebook and Twitter alerting everyone as to why you've gone incommunicado.
C) Find yourself reaching for it, then remember you don't have it.
D) Feel strangely liberated.
6. How often does your phone go dead before you get home at night?
A) Never. You keep a backup charger with you at all times.
B) Pretty regularly. Updating Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest takes a lot of juice.
C) Always, but you're still surprised when it happens. How much battery power does hours of idle surfing really use?
D) Only on especially busy days.
7. When you find yourself with a spare five or ten minutes, how do you use the time?
A) Spare time? What's that?
B) Check to see whether anyone has liked your Facebook status.
C) Fill the silence with a funny YouTube video. Or play some online mahjong. Or go to FaceTouchUp to see how you'd look with a nose job.
D) Take a quick walk, call a friend, or knock something off your to-do list.
If your responses are mostly A…
Diagnosis: Repeatedly refreshed email syndrome
Symptoms: If your manager sends a nonurgent message at 10 P.M., you respond within seconds. You feel anxious that something bad will happen if you don't address all incoming communication ASAP, even if it isn't work-related. In fact, your body has become so accustomed to the buzz of your cell phone—and the jolt of anticipation that accompanies the arrival of an e-mail or a text—that it may actually misinterpret other stimuli, like wind or the brush of clothing, as a phantom vibration.
Prescription: "There are a tiny number of us whose work and life really require constant engagement with devices," says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, PhD, author of "The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul." "For most people, however, it's more a matter of habit." Not only is this behavior damaging to your sanity, it sets a dangerous precedent, training people to expect your immediate response. But it's possible to retrain them. "Make clear when you're going offline and when you'll be available again, and explain that at that time you'll give whatever you've missed your full attention," says Pang. Another strategy: Create a musical hierarchy with your ringtones or email alerts. Only the people who must be able to reach you at all times (your boss, your babysitter, George Clooney) get assigned Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now"; everyone else can make do with a soft Chopin prelude.
If your responses are mostly B…
Diagnosis: Facebook trigger finger
Symptoms: You average several tweets, Instagram photos, and Facebook updates per day. You're plagued by the question, If I do something and don't post about it, did it really happen?
Prescription: When you live-tweet your life, you miss out on enjoying experiences as they occur. Worse, you create a dynamic in which you may begin evaluating everything you do as a potential source of online validation. Before you post, tweet, or Instagram, ask yourself: Are you doing this because others will enjoy or learn something from it? Or do you just want a little attention or praise? "Whenever you feel that need to prove to the world that your life looks impressive," says Soren Gordhamer, author of "Wisdom 2.0: The New Movement Toward Purposeful Engagement in Business and in Life," "explore the emotion behind it. What's causing you to look for approval—or to feel that you don't already have it? While a Facebook 'like' may feel good for a moment, it can't get at that deeper need, which requires your attention to really resolve."
If your responses are mostly C…
Diagnosis: Channel-Surfing Compulsivitis
Symptoms: You grow anxious if you don't receive a stream of stimuli, forcing you to mindlessly seek it from various devices—the TV being a reliable source.
Prescription: People in this category struggle with downtime; in fact, they can become so used to anticipating incoming information that their brains release stress chemicals when something new fails to materialize, says Larry D. Rosen, PhD, author of "iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us." TV and other devices deliver new stimuli on a constant basis and reinforce the need for more, more, more. To short-circuit the cycle, Rosen recommends trying this challenge: Turn off the television (or your most abused gadget) for 15 minutes, then resume watching. When you can make it 15 minutes without discomfort, go up to 20, then 30. If that sounds easy, bear in mind you have to turn off the TV without seeking other entertainment. "This exercise is designed to train your brain to not release the neurotransmitters that trigger stress and anxiety" when things get quiet, Rosen explains.
If your responses are mostly D…
Diagnosis: Clear for now, but come back for regular checkups
Symptoms: Few, if any! You recognize that the smartphone was created so that you could make calls from anywhere—not so that everyone could always reach you. You know the world won't end if you don't respond to texts right away. You update your Facebook page only when you have something interesting to report. You DVR your favorite shows so you watch just what you actually want to see.
Prescription: Though you've managed to make technology work for you (not the other way around), you're probably not immune to the occasional case of gadgetitis. If you start to feel your usage creep up, Gordhamer recommends a brief diagnostic. Ask yourself:
> Am I getting out into nature?
> Am I spending enough time with family and friends?
> Do I have contemplative time each day, away from my electronics?
This reality check recognizes that life changes, routines shift—and technology will continue to innovate new ways to capture your attention. Your best defense is to train a vigilant eye on your engagement with electronics and to keep hewing to that age-old refrain: Everything in moderation.