The rise of digital addiction and 5 ways to deal with it

Be honest: how many mobile devices do you use daily? How many apps have you downloaded on these devices? How many hours do you spend on these devices? Do you feel you are unable to function productively without one (or two) of your devices? Do you rely on apps for most of your daily activities?

If I must answer these questions myself, I have four mobile devices – phone, tablet, a connected watch, and a laptop. I have more than a dozen apps on these devices – from the big three social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), messaging apps, mobile banking app, Google suite, video streaming, shopping apps, scheduling apps etc. Screen usage data on my mobile phone says I spend an average of 5 hours a day on it. I must say yes, I rely heavily on my mobile devices and their apps – even with making appointments for the doctor and the hairdresser, I use apps! Am I a digital addict? What is digital addiction, by the way? Is it time to ‘Marie Kondo’ my digital lifestyle?

Like a lot of people (and especially during the pandemic), I have started to question my constant reliance on mobile devices, apps, and my consumption of digital content. Have I become what Andrew Sullivan describes in his popular 2016 essay “I Used to Be a Human Being” a “manic information addict”?  Sullivan’s essay chronicles his decade and a half long digital addiction, starting with maintaining multiple popular blogs, to deteriorating health and then ending up on a retreat, 15 years later, to give up his digitally obsessive lifestyle. Although some would say that Andrew’s case is on the extreme side, there are insights to gain from his experience, as well as what counts as mild (or maybe full on) addiction. Needless to say, digital addiction is indeed on the rise and there are already multiple studies and discussions on this.

Let us back-up for a moment, digress and define digital addiction. In Carl Newport’s popular and New York Times bestseller book ‘Digital Minimalism’, he defines digital addiction as online habits that are interfering with your productivity, your leisure time, or your relationships. The term internet addiction disorder (IAD) has been floated around and is defined as problematic, compulsive use of the internet, that results in significant impairment in an individual’s function in various life domains over a prolonged period of time. If your digital footprint is interfering with work, study, relationships, leisure, and sleep, safe to say that you are flirting with digital addiction, to say the least. If it is already causing you to crash and affecting your health, perhaps it is time to face the truth and admit you have digital addiction.

Based on these definitions, I can say that I have borderline digital addiction! So before you and I require urgent care or therapy, here’s a list of things we can do to pull us from going over the cliff of digital addiction.

  1. Declutter. Do the equivalent of the Konmari method popularized by Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo in your digital lifestyle. Delete those apps that do not ‘spark joy’ or more practically those that you have not used in the last week or are not using regularly. I had over three homeworking apps plus a yoga app but after being unused for more than two weeks, reality check tells me I am never going to use them! The same is true for apps whose functionalities are accessible in other apps. News sites and portals are already part of your social media feed if you follow them there, for example, so no need to download their apps?
  2. Limit social media apps on your mobile devices. I get it that we connect (and admit it, spy!) with friends and family via social media. But do you absolutely have to use all of them? Figure out which one or two social media platforms you can significantly connect with friends and family and stick to them. No need to check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tiktok etc. when you only need one, or two. Most of these share similar content anyway. I personally gave up on Twitter as for me it is just too time-consuming and unrelentless in pushing information.
  3. Make real-world conversations and meetings. I know it is increasingly hard with a raging pandemic but whenever possible, make real-life conversations and meetings the default setting rather than the “do I have to” one. Even if the digital-first trend is here to stay, choose to add a personalized/human touch to your online conversations by using audio and video, and strive to communicate with real identities not internet trolls and random internet user handles.
  4. Choose active leisure over passive activity. Make leisure activities that demand physical effort a default. After the demands of work and family life, it is very tempting to just pass the time vegetating on the couch, swiping through your mobile phone or scrolling through your social media feed or binge-watching a series on your video streaming service. But if you carve out the time to do active leisure first – be it walking, yoga, exercising, gardening, cooking, scrapbooking, painting, coloring , etc. – anything that requires the active use of your body and brain – this will minimize the time for passive, low-quality digital distractions.
  5. Tag team or partner-up. The adage is right – two heads are better than one. Find someone to help you kick your digital addiction and make you stay accountable to the steps mentioned. It could be a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, workmate, or someone who is also trying to kick the habit – anyone you can trust to help you stay on track.

What did you think of these suggestions? Are you even a little digitally addicted? Let us know your thoughts – or just go outside for a walk instead!