The Internet is great. It gives us access to so much new information. We can share interesting ideas and connect with people all over the world. The benefits are infinite.
However, there is a real issue with how this is compatible with our human brains. One of the most defining features of being human is our attraction to novel information. Another defining feature of being human is that we are highly socially aware. We cannot help but seek new information, or care about what other people think of us.
Companies designing apps and websites have realized how strong these human traits are and how harnessing them can be used for profit. The attention economy is strong. Big companies make money by capturing our attention and then selling our attention for ads.
Having a hard time putting your phone down, is not a sign of bad character, lack of willpower, or being lazy — it’s almost impossible for us to not be vulnerable to these addictive tendencies. If you spend enough time smoking cigarettes, you may hate it at first, but eventually, you will become addicted. Similarly, if you spend enough time on social media, it will be hard to not become addicted.
Technology will become more addictive
I think this will become more and more of a problem as technology continues to evolve and companies are getting better at learning how to grasp our attention even more. In addition to this, there is a huge amount of data being collected about each of us every day. This may not be a huge problem yet, but the fact that this is collected poses a risk for how it can be used in the future.
Will your search history be able to tell that you have a fear of abandonment? Or that you have health anxiety? Or that you have an authority complex due to your third-grade geography teacher? As time goes on, the ability to analyze your data will become more and more specific. That type of information can be used to continue to capture our attention even more sophisticatedly and also incline us to buy certain products.
This addictive tendency will likely get harder and harder to resist. So if you do not like how much you use your smartphone today, chances are that you might dislike it even less in the future — unless taking action.
Maintaining our humanness as technology continues to evolve
This is not intended to be a dystopian view. But as technology continues to evolve, I think we need to be mindful of how we want to incorporate it while still keeping our humanness. This dramatic technological shift puts a huge demand on us to consider how to keep in touch with ourselves.
On top of this, I think it is important to consider that you (as far as we know) only have one life. Is it a waste of time to spend our precious time on earth scrolling through endless feeds? Because not only is it not very fulfilling by itself — I think the main problem is really that it can just take up so much time. Time can just fly by on the internet.
Spending time on the important stuff
To not let time just fly by, it can be good to take stock of your values and make time for being human. I want to spend my time on the things I think matter: my friends and family, contributing, learning and sharing, laughing, crying, enjoying the morning sun — without distractions. Being human. I do not want to wake up in 40 years and realize that I’ve spent most of my life in front of a screen, endlessly scrolling.
How I’m reducing screen time
I choose to have my phone completely without social apps or even a browser. This allows me to still call, text, video call, use maps, and use notes. I like this because I can still use my phone as a tool but it does not call for my attention much.
I can use the browser freely on my computer for 1 hour per day. This is perfect for learning new things and keeping up on world events and forums, without having it take up a substantial part of my day. I only use social media on my computer (not on my phone), but that is limited to just 15 minutes daily.
Outside of that hour, I can use the browser when needed but have it set up so that I have to enter 30 generated characters (character-by-character) every 20 minutes. This is slightly tedious so often I don’t bother, but it is useful every now and then when I need to.
I still have to spend a decent amount in front of a screen outside of that hour because of my job. I also use my laptop for writing (but with no internet!) outside of that.
Life outside of internet
I feel like my life quality has drastically improved from reducing my screen use. I have much more time available now. So I’ve had to somewhat relearn how to use my time without the internet. It was actually this very pursuit, that led me to Epicurean philosophy. It is interesting how such an ancient philosophy can be so highly relevant in our modern time.
What do you think? Should we limit our screen time? And if so, how?