Smart Phone, Dumber You?
It’s the irst thing you grab when you wake up and the last thing you touch at night (even after bae). You reach for it countless times in between, and panic if you leave it at home. ‘You can become psychologically addicted to almost anything – including, and perhaps especially, your phone,’ says Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. A smartphone is basically a mini dopamine factory, doling out hits of the feel-good brain chemical as a reward when you get Likes on social media or relieve boredom by scrolling Twitter. Unfortunately, ‘The dopamine system is not satiable, so you continue to crave more and more,’ says clinical psychologist Elyssa Barbash. That’s why the average person ends up reaching for their phone 80 times a day, according to one survey. (If you think this sounds low, same.) And chances are, you don’t love it. More than half of people between the ages of 18 and 24 are seeking relief from social media, according to a recent report.
Getting some distance is essential because new research suggests that small-screen obsessions are a major brain drain. Being attached to your phone (even if you’re not looking at it) can impair mental functions, sapping your working memory and your ability to perform tasks, according to a 2017 study. ‘Resisting your phone’s pull takes up cognitive resources,’ explains study coauthor Adrian Ward, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. Instead of focusing, ‘We’re constantly in this state of attention between what’s happening
in the moment and everything that could be happening – because that is what our phone represents.’
Luckily, you don’t have to totally ditch your phone to lessen its neggy effects. The more you train yourself not to, say, mindlessly scroll on the toilet, says Miller, the less you’ll feel the urge to. Here’s our not-even-close-to-unplugged-level plan for self-rehab.
Delete your most addictive apps.
We’re not saying you can’t use Insta, Snapchat or Twitter at all – just that you may have to check them on your laptop. Okay, fine: delete just one or two of them from your phone. It might hurt a little, but it will help short-circuit the dopamine loop you’re stuck in by reducing the number of triggers at your fingertips. The goal? Make your phone so boring that you resort to thinking deep thoughts in the pharmacy line instead of posting about your mascara purchase.
Set up a roadblock.
To stop reaching for your phone for the 15 seconds it takes Netflix to play the next episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, ‘Put a hair tie around it,’ says Catherine Price, author of How To Break Up With Your Phone. ‘It will act like a little speed bump and jolt your brain out of autopilot.’ When you see the hair tie, ask yourself whether or not you actually need to open any apps right then. If the answer is no, put your phone back in your pocket – or, better yet, in another room.
Get some distance.
‘If you’re a smoker and there are cigarettes in front of you and you’re trying to do something else, your brain will just keep wanting you to grab a cigarette,’ says Price. Ditto for phones. Remove the temptation by stashing yours in your bag while at work or in a drawer when you want to have a real conversation at home, and turning on Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving feature, which sends customisable automatic replies to texts (‘Taking a tech break!’). If you’re worried about missing something important, set up your phone to allow calls only from your faves. ■
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