This article is the first in a four part series on the growing touch screen addiction.
Steve Jobs certainly didn't invent touch screen technology but he was a driving force behind its rapid, widespread adoption through the release of Apple's iPhone and iPad. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the release of the first iPhone and it would be an understatement to say that a lot has changed. Smart phones and tablets have dramatically shifted our behavior from dating, driving and dining to shopping, socializing and storytelling. All of our interactions from the unfamiliar to the most intimate have shifted in ways that none of us saw coming.
We are consuming information faster than any other time in human history. We've spent the last ten years becoming so enamored with all the good things associated with touchscreen technology that we didn't even notice the bad things creeping in. For all of the advances we've made, smart devices have left us with an elephant-sized epidemic sitting quietly in the corner of the room. The epidemic is addiction, pure and simple. We are collectively addicted to the constant feed of information that touch screen technologies facilitate.
You may have been left with the impression that the use of the word perpetrated in the title is an exaggerated characterization. It's not. The fact is that Steve Jobs himself knew the risks associated with touch screen technology and still chose to unleash it upon the world. In 2012, two years after the release of the iPad, Steve Jobs was prompted by NY Times journalist about how his kids must love the iPad, to which Jobs famously responded with "They haven't used it....we limit how much technology our kids use at home." This quote speaks volumes about the choice that Jobs made as a parent. If he didn't let his own children use the very technology that he publicly promoted then is it safe to say that the insight he had into the risks of the device led him to conclude that the damage from the bad outweighs the value of the good?
In the end, it is not the devices themselves that are the problem though. They're just a well-crafted vessel designed to deliver the drug. It is the endless drip of real-time information and binge-ready entertainment that have created the addiction and made it so we just can't stop ourselves from pulling out our smartphones while waiting in line or mindlessly surfing the web long after bedtime. We are victims of our neurochemistry. Digital consumption of content is the new disruptor of an outdated notion of aspiring to live a balanced life.
New York University professor and author Adam Alter comments on how technologies are being designed to promote behavioral addiction in his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. He states, "Instagram, like so many other social media platforms, is bottomless. Facebook has an endless feed; Netflix automatically moves on to the next episode in the series....Users benefit from these apps and websites, but also struggle to use them in moderation. According to Tristan Harris, a 'design ethicist', the problem isn't the people lack willpower; it's that 'there are thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.'"
If you still don't believe that there is a problem then ask yourself these questions. How often do you check your phone? If you have any hobbies, do you still do them? Do you look at your phone the moment it makes a noise or check it the moment you wake up? Do you keep your phone next to your bed? Do you look at your phone on the toilet? Do you check text messages while driving despite a keen awareness of the risks? If you answered yes to even just some of these questions then it's time to have an intervention with yourself. Remember, the first step to recovery is admitting that we're addicted.
Part 2 of this series will explore the biology behind the addiction through the lens of self-management. Part 3 of this series will discuss ways that screen time addiction may be putting our children's futures at risk and part 4 of this series will discuss how we can move forward leveraging the value of technology while managing the risks.