The changes that come with age are probably the cause of my dodgy memory. I experience what we and our friends of a similar age call “senior moments”, when I find myself, for example, in the kitchen asking myself, “What did I come in here for, I don’t remember?” This noticeable reduction in memory performance, whilst worrying, is not my main concern; it is my reduced ability to concentrate at work that is worrying me. Certainly, talking to my students this seems to be a common problem, the addictive attraction of our mobiles: messages, emails, above all social media such as tiktok, instagram, facebook, to name three of the most common.
One of the most important aspects of life that we are missing and that we have lost are quiet, moments when we have nothing to do − those moments when we simply reflect, contemplate − moments so important for insight, creativity, emotional health and our growth toward self-realisation.
Observe yourself and others. What do you do if you have a spare moment; waiting for someone, queuing, a quiet moment? Like millions of others, you probably whip out your mobile to check messages, social media, even though you just checked five minutes ago. We have a fear of missing out, of experiencing boredom, of simply being with ourselves; what we want prefer is distraction. With our mobiles and social media we also get a dopamine hit. We become addicts to dopamine. It is the same mechanism that makes us addicts to drugs. Not as strong as the dopamine hit produced by cocaine or sex, but it is strong enough to create addiction, so that we reflexively reach for our mobiles and feel insecure even panicky if we leave home without it.
*Addiction is simply the repetition of a certain behaviour, in spite of the harm it is creating in your life, often against your rational judgement.
Yet another alarming fact now emerging is the relationship between poor mental health (especially anxiety and depression) and excessive use of social media.
What can we do about it?
Everything about your mobile phone is designed to make you more dependent/addicted. A lot can be achieved simply by disabling the most “sticky” features:
- Switch off notifications: Make your phone work for you rather than the other way around.
- Put your phone into greyscale/monochrome mode. (The entire colour scheme is designed to distract you).
- Make time for physical encounters. Instead of conversing by mobile, deliberately plan and make time for face-to-face meetings with family and friends. Make a point of striking up conversations with people in the physical world.
- Get rid of all but the most vital apps on your phone; very few are vital.
- Change your smartphone for a phone with reduced features, especially when you are out and about.
- Put time limits on your smartphone use. For example, don’t use your smartphone for two hours before going to bed. Program a time each day when you can do whatever you want with your smartphone (30 minutes for example). Stick to those times.
- Practice mindful awareness. Smartphones, social media, messaging apps, all are designed to hook you and keep you hooked. You are your attention; it is the only thing that is truly yours. How you manage your attention will decide the quality of your life, your happiness, your health, your wellbeing. Smartphones, social media and many other apps are carefully designed attention thieves, and/or designed to collect ever greater amounts of your personal information so as to distract you better.
Finally, take time to get out into the sunshine, the rain, the wind. Get out into nature as often as you can. Practice mindful awareness. See and appreciate, and participate in the miracle of being here, being alive. Take time to experience and appreciate.