Smart Phone, Dumber You?

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY LISA FREED­MAN

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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