I went to the movies the other day and noticed that instead of just the usual courtesy request for people to turn off their cell phones during the movie, additional wording has been added to prohibit texting during a movie. I immediately thought that somewhere in the movie theatre some teen's face was reflected in green or blue radiance from their personal communication device as they texted: "OMG, at movies n they sd no txting during show! WTF! LOL!" or something shorter and more code-like. But this affliction isn't just for teens anymore.
Even sitting over coffee with a friend or a coaching client we're constantly interrupted by phone calls and the quick 'check' to see if it's a call they'll take or one they'll ignore. Then there's the buzz, beep or vibration that alerts the cell owner to an incoming e-mail. I thought mail was to be opened and answered at the viewer's discretion, not treated like a missed phone call! Add to this blitz the instant messages and texts that are kind of like talking but instead of speech, we type, and we misspell and abbreviate to the point we need to learn a new language which looks etymologically like it came from early license plate code much the same way that English has roots in Greek, Latin and a few other languages.
Just this past Sunday I came home from a charity event and found out that another person in attendance was taking photos with their camera and pasting them up on Facebook in real time, like a reality show or some sort of cultural anthropologist reporting on the mysterious meetings of suburban families to walk for any cause that's affected them or their families. This same person is known to make comments on Facebook at 3 or 4 AM when they can't sleep or to report that someone isn't returning their phone calls with the additional symbol of a 'sad face' using parentheses and a colon for emphasis. I'm sympathetic as the next person, but is a headache or your child's upset stomach a newsworthy event that the other 8 zillion subscribers to your social network are waiting for are update on?
So does this preoccupation qualify as an 'addiction'? Addiction is defined on Thefreedictionary.com as: "Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance." That would include those who get emotionally distraught when texts and emails aren't returned almost immediately or who check emails while at social events. The level of compulsion for this activity rests in the same pleasure centers of the brain as do other addictions like gambling, narcotics and alcohol so my vote is 'yes', the preoccupation is an addiction or at least the early warning signs of one.
"The very nature of the Internet also lends itself to overuse and abuse, encouraging us to exhibit behaviors that are counterproductive, isolating and disruptive to our closet relationships...to ourselves, our families, our employers and the community at large" says Dr. Dave Greenfield of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction.
Now do I picture people holed up in a padded room, chained to a bed while some sympathetic therapist wipes their fevered brow with a damp cloth as they 'kick' their Twitter dependency? Not really. But a little research shows that extremes are being met and that the threat is real: in China one-third of high school aged children studied showed signs of addiction, including paranoia, when they were without their phones, and two-thirds were "constantly worried" that they would miss a text message when their phones were off. It could get worse, yes, but must it?
As a coach I am offering these tips to you, if you even suspect you are becoming dependent on your cell phone and social networking outlets. Share them with those you are concerned about and please realize, we might laugh about it, but it's not a joke by any means.
Tips to achieve balance from a coaching perspective:
- Start your day working on a project instead of on the internet or e-mail. This one adjustment increased my production by an incalculable amount. When I turn on my computer in the morning I spend the first hour working on my most urgent assignments or tasks. After I have moved the project forward or accomplished that day's task I check e-mails and communications.
- Schedule your email and internet use. This is often the toughest thing to put in place with my clients. I suggest that they plan out 2-3 times a day when they'll check their internet and messaging devices and outlets. This discipline can give you back the sense of control of your schedule that constant instant access has robbed from you. Try it for a week and see for yourself.
- Share your schedule with others. My personal e-mail signature lets everyone know that I only check e-mail once or twice a day and instructs them to call me on my cell if it is an urgent matter. You are training people how to best work with you and again, it gives you back some sense of control of your schedule.
- Work your focus 'muscle' little by little. If you are easily distracted, try starting small 'focus workouts', 15 minute blocks of time when you work on just one thing with no distractions. After a while, like a week or two, up that time to 30 minutes and build progressively. By the way (BTW in 'text speak'), even the most 'focus muscled' mind needs a break about every 90 minutes on average to operate at peak capacity so take frequent breaks, but real breaks, where you rest and recharge your brain.
- Create 'free zones' or places you won't use the internet or where you'll limit its use. For example, during work hours turn off your personal cell and avoid your personal e-mails. If you're getting personal e-mails and texts at work then your production is going to slip and you are ripping off your employer - if you work for yourself this is doubly true!
- Get help. Seriously, if your texting, e-mailing and internet use has passed the level of socially acceptable behavior and is replacing or endangering your relationships or work then you need to take action now. Ironically, searching the web for internet addiction resources can be a healthy step and there are many to choose from. But start with a friend, a live one, in a live conversation, and tell them of your concern and ask for support. Try the Center for Internet Addiction as I've mentioned above at http://www.virtual-addiction.com/.
I realize that this message is going out via the Internet and will be Tweeted, Buzzed up, Digg'd, posted on Facebook, etc. and there's a certain irony in that. What we're talking is not abstinence or burying your head in the sand to avoid the 'demon technology' or any other doomsday message. What I'm talking about is balance. As the Roman dramatist Terence remarked, "Moderation in all things."
I have to go now; I've used up my Internet allotment!