Cold Turkey

Many of us have just been forced to quit an 8-year addiction to our smartphones

On January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs announced the iPhone at a Macworld convention. Just 32 days later on February 10th, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States. People’s relationship with their smartphones were entirely forged during the Obama presidency. Liberals could comfortably rely on their phone’s social feed to deliver mostly supportive news with the occasional funny meme. If you felt anxious or sad, a quick hit of dopamine lay just beneath unlocking your phone and taking a scroll. Over 8 years, this became a dependance. We got hooked. Our phones became beloved objects. The problem is, many of us started to believe that the phone itself delivered the dopamine, without realizing that the dopamine was tied to the content we were consuming.

On January 20th, 2017, millions of Americans had their reliable sources of dopamine cut off, cold turkey. Our phones and social feeds became sources of perpetual psychological torture. If we were rats in an experiment, it is as if the cruel scientists replaced the lever that gave us delicious morsels of food with a painful shock instead. We’re all addicts, gone cold turkey.

On top of it all, so many of us feel the need to stay vigilant. There are events demanding we pay attention. This isn’t normal. But on top of it all, we should at least acknowledge the shift in the relationship we have to a habit most of us have carried for nearly a decade. In my own social sphere, people have reported difficulty sleeping, difficulty focusing, and increased anxiety. I, myself, had the first panic attack of my life. I can’t help but wonder how much of this might be tied to a widespread and sudden change in our relationship with our smartphones and the brain chemicals that follow.

Of course we thought that fun and phone were linked. But this is all just sampling bias. There is nothing intrinsically fun about your phone, particularly not if the content of the phone is driving you up the wall. Making this realization can be incredibly liberating.

Over the past several days, I’ve made a few shifts. As an entrepreneur, I feel compelled to still participate on social media, but I limit my usage to twice per day (once at the beginning and once at the end). Phones are no longer kept in the bedroom. I limit my consumption of news to my train ride home. This doesn’t mean I’m not involved in acting on my political beliefs. Although it’s too early to tell, I think it may make me more ready and energized for action.

For the first time in days, I slept well last night.


Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Sasha Wright.
Syringe icon by Kevin.

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