Self Care: Dr. Jekyll & Mister Hyde in the Technology Age

A simple experiment in that horror story turned a man into half a monster. The story could be seen as a prescient cautionary tale of life with technology. Most of the contemporary workforce has worked with computers for their whole career. Computers and technologies are integral and like electricity or running water, part of our cultural status quo.

The real experiment of our lifetimes came with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. People were fully aware of the usefulness of computer, and so smartphones were easy sells. Searching, seeking, knowing, exploring…all those positive actions could be done everywhere and anywhere. We were able to gorge on the best of computers at ANY TIME. And, then all of sudden, you are addicted.

Back to the metaphor of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll in the story is a driven, rational man who hopes to understand human nature. He is pretty normal despite his unnatural interest in human experimentation. What his transmuted self, on the other hand, is all Id, the basest of humanity.

But, so, what? Well, if you are trying to be your best self, you need to figure out how much Mr. Hyde you can handle. You need to spend some time trying to see what feels good. For example, I spent a childhood addicted to television. I would have much rather watch TV than go to the movies with friends. As with some addictions, this is not an easy one for me to sample. Three days after watching one clip from a show for a little break, I am binge watching Murder; She Wrote in my pajamas all weekend. Everyone’s brain is different. My brain is all about, way on, or all off. Binge-watching makes me turn my brain all off. So, now I don’t watch much TV. I don’t stream shows. And, if I am going to binge watch (say a Great British Bake-Off Marathon with my kids), I set an appointment to do it.

Unlike televisions, smartphones connect you to others. Smartphones don’t turn you into your worst self, necessarily. But, their highly addictive nature makes it easy to slip away from your real self into a virtual self. The hormone bump born of digital likes only serves to pull you deeper into that world. As hard-wired social beings, this is even better than the autopilot nature of binge watching. You are concurrently getting a social fix while being on autopilot. Smartphones are basically like the brain equivalent of salty and sweet in one bite.

Using smartphones doesn’t necessarily turn you into another person. It’s all a question of balance. Some people can just check once or twice a day. But, most people check hundreds of time. Most people are become Mr. Hyde over and over during the day, leaving their rational selves behind as they are cocooning themselves into the life of their phone.

The first step to making peace with Mr. Hyde is to test yourself. Tracking usage can be good, though truthfully, I am not the best at keeping tracking systems up. I recommend instead testing yourself through a step-down system. For this to work, you need to get your desktop computer inline too. Put your phone in bag or drawer for 1 hour the first day. (And concurrently disable any popular social sites on your computer for the same hour). The next day add more time away from those distractions. At the end of each day write down your feelings. Finally, take a few real days off everything. If you are a big texter, you might make sure to tell people that you are doing this. (You will just come off as a jerk or a shut-in otherwise.)

Finally, when you are done with your experiment, go back over your notes. There will be a day that you seem good about the amount of usage you have. For a few of us, it will be the completely tech-free day. But, for most of us, it is probably somewhere in the middle.

Now with your ideal in place, find ways to help yourself stay here. The locking your phone away system can work. But, truthfully, distraction is also good. You might notice that your phone is your crutch when you get home from work b/c you are tired. There are plenty of other things to relax you when you are tired. Schedule in an alternative there, like exercise or cooking, say. Eventually, you will build better habits, and you won’t need to hide your phone. You will find that Mr. Hyde-likes impulses will be defused.