Are You Overplugged?

“Smartphones,” by Esther Vargas, courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons

There is a Yiddish saying: To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.

I constantly think of the phrase with and how it’s related to tech balance. Here’s why: we tend to be so caught up in the hyperconnected world overflowing with information and begging for instantaneous responses, that we only recognize its ridiculousness when we step away.

Or something causes us to have an epiphany.

For me it was sitting through jury duty in 2010. I may be an attorney, but that doesn’t make the process of sitting around waiting in a sterile setting any more riveting. While I certainly respected the civil duty of it all, I was in dire need of my smartphone for work, communication, and entertainment. I was out of luck.

I forgot my phone.

That’s when the trouble began. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing in my pocket, even though it was sitting safely at home. As any horror movie will certainly make clear, hearing imaginary sounds or voices is usually not a good thing in life. The experience left me rattled, and wondering what was wrong.

So I went to Google, hoping to find others with similar stories. Google seems to be our private way to ask those nagging “Am I a freak of nature” questions. It turned out I wasn’t. I discovered that, according to Pew Research, upwards of two-thirds of Americans have experienced “phantom rings.” As in you hear vibrating or ringing that doesn't in fact exist.

It wasn't just me with a problem, but most people.

I was familiar with the phantom sensation that amputees sometimes get from a lost limb. Was our smartphone as essential to our being as a limb? I found this thought disconcerting because it showcased an insane level of vulnerability to an object. I love my technology, but I obviously did not have control over it. It was changing me in a negative way, as opposed to being a source of pleasure and utility.

It was that day that I started my journey towards finding a happy medium with technology. We constantly frame the issue as a either/or proposition: either you are a Luddite with a flip phone OR a TechCrunch-reading uber-geek salivating over the upcoming Apple Watch. The truth, of course, is more complicated.

We are all trying to finding a solution that works for us. There is no magic number for healthy tech consumption, but there are clearly ways to tell that our tech use is unhealthy: we feel disconnected and mentally fried.

This is a qualitative state that Dr. David Greenfield and I call overplugged. Dr. Greenfield is the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and a leading authority on cyber issues. He is associated with popularizing the dopamine/tech use connection, having released his book Virtual Addiction in 1999.

Together we have created a simple 12-question quiz to determine your reliance on technology.

1. Do you sleep with your smartphone ON under your pillow or next to your bed regularly?

2. Do you find yourself mindlessly passing time on a regular basis by staring at your smartphone, tablet, or computer while forgoing more productive activities?

3. Do you find yourself spending more time with ‘virtual friends’ as opposed to real people nearby?

4. Do you find yourself viewing and answering texts, tweets, and emails at all hours of the day and night — even when it means interrupting other things you are doing?

5. Do you seem to lose track of time when you are on your digital devices?

6. Has the amount of time you spend on your digital devices and the internet been substantially increasing?

7. Do you secretly wish you could be a little less wired or connected to your internet-enabled devices?

8. Do you find yourself feeling somewhat ill-at-ease or uncomfortable when you your smartphone or other Internet enabled device is inaccessible or without service?

9. Do you text, email, tweet or surf while driving or doing other similar activities that require your focused attention and concentration.

10. Do you feel your use of technology actually decreases your productivity at times?

11. Do you ALWAYS have your smartphone or other digital device with you when you leave the house and feel reluctant to be without it even for a short time?

12. Is your smartphone always on the table while you are eating?

[If you answer YES to more than four of these questions, you might benefit from going on a digital diet and making some small, but powerful, changes in your relationship to technology. Are you overplugged? If so, you may need a reminder to Plug Back into Life: Copyright, 2013. Dr. David Greenfield and David Ryan Polgar, JD.]

At the end of the day, we are all trying to finding a solution that works for us. We want to be connected online without feeling disconnected offline.

We want to be plugged in, but not overplugged.

Written by David Ryan Polgar of Copilot Networks (maker of Copilot Family).

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