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Hanging Up on Cell Phone Addiction - Yoder_ D

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					Hanging Up on Cell Phone Addiction
What to do when an electronic device becomes your best friend
Published on December 21, 2012 by Jeremy Spiegel, M.D. in Mind Tapas


In a recently published study at Baylor and Seton Hall Universities, researchers studied cell phone and
instant messaging – or texting—addiction among college aged men and women.

 College students are the heaviest users of information and communication technology and an
overwhelming number of them own smart-phones and use them throughout their day—sending an average
of 109.5 text messages a day, receiving just as many each day, and checking their cell phones 60 times on
an average day.

 Investigators discovered that measures of materialism and impulsiveness were predictors of technological
addictions among college-aged men and women. So what this says is that materialism—acquisition of
stuff—and placing a high value on the kind of stuff you’ve got—as a display of or as an extension of the
self—correlates highly with cell phone use; whereas use of instant messaging, does not correlate so much
with materialism, but is related more to impulsivity.

None of this is surprising. Many of us do flash our phones—even unwittingly—as a kind of status—so
many peacock’s tails in an age of AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

 How many of us spend more time with our cell phones—checking our email through it, checking for texts,
for missed calls—then we do with our own minds? Picture this. You’re at the sushi bar, alone, dabbing at
the wasabi clumps in your soy sauce dish. There’s no ringing, no electronic beeps or boops, no strong
vibrations in your pants pocket, yet you pull out your phone anyway—Why? Can’t it wait? Whatever it is.
Does the repetitive reassurance of finger swiping or button pushing make it easier for you to sit in silence
among your fellow diners, your bento-box craving brothers-in-lunch?

 Perpetual contact has become a norm, especially in the younger age groups, and yet—the irony being that
there’s constant connection to–or interfacing with the cell phone—yet the quality of information is poor or
skeletal. There is, ironically, a greater chance for social isolation when most of your social life is mediated
through this device.

 But is the compulsive checking and texting an addiction? If there is a pleasurable reward there is the
potential for addiction. Behavioral addictions have rewards, tolerance—needing or seeking more to sustain
desired level of pleasurable payoff, withdrawal, feeling badly as you are cut off from the desired
stimulation.

 The major problem as I see it is not so much you get a buzz, a text, or an alert, or a fresh new email from a
friend, relative, or potential lover—and the rewarding hit of brain neuro-chemicals these elicit—hence the
term ‘crackberry’—the problem is when no one is there. The intolerable gaps of time between contacts,
might be tiny, but can feel like eons filled with soul-shrivelling loneliness and dejection.

 What happens to you when you are left to crash downward into the abyss of ‘no one wants me just now', in
these seconds becoming minutes, becoming hours? Depending on your sensitivity, proneness to
impulsivity, and how strongly you equate being contacted with the relative strength of you esteem for
yourself—you can be left feeling grief stricken or even completely bereft. Utterly lonely. Despairing.

 Think about it. To some it may sound extreme—but to someone prone to feeling easily rejected,
abandoned—we all know people like this—the low lows after hitting the tri-tone high note of someone
needing you wanting you—the let down even moments thereafter can be brutal, and even, a kind of
repeating self-injury.

 So what is an addiction? Many of us want to feel good, or at least, better than we do right now. One of my
patients in recovery from his addiction summed it up: “I didn’t do drugs because I’m mad at the world. I
did drugs because it made me feel good.” But then, he got caught in the vicious loop of increasing tolerance
and withdrawal and relapse onward and downward ad nauseam. Literally.

 Visionary Marshall McLuhan said we have become global wanderers, information gatherers rather than
food gatherers. He also said that societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by
which humans communicate than by the content of the communication.

 Maybe we are becoming cyborgs, part human part computer--all of us—any of us who have ever even
once texted someone, the mere presence of the term text, to text, a verb that did not exist only a few short
years ago—makes you—the way I see it--part machine.

And how do we live today?

 It’s clear, we need new guideposts to orient ourselves. The answer could lie simply in what we expect from
our relationships and from ourselves—and in the knowledge that we are ever rapidly shifting.

 Is an addiction still an addiction if everyone’s doing it? We need to look at what suffers when we behave
as we do. There may be no critical number of texts sent, or times a phone is checked, to easily distinguish
someone who has a frank addiction to a technology from someone who doesn’t. Or to a very specific
application of that technology.

 Think about how a therapist would see us in the throes of our addiction—they could point out what might
be missing from a our life as a result of time spent rooting around our digital backyards for elusive bits of
highly valued treasure, desperately awaiting a signal from some other--it even could be anyone--trying to
tell us something, to ask us something, or just by mere contact alone irrespective of a message’s content,
indicating that we still matter. That we are worth something, and so therefore, providing just that much
more impetus to go on living.

Let’s talk about solutions. How would you cope with impulsive behavior? One way is to make it
impossible to make good on the urges as they come. And you can do this for portions of the day which you
designate in advance as time for doing life unplugged.




Can you manage with just an hour of unplugged time? Turn your phone off, stick it in a drawer, and leave it
there for an hour. It’ll help to think of this as an experiment. Whatever separation anxieties you feel, let
them float in an out of you as you train your eyes and attention to life unfolding right before you. By
making it physically impossible to do anything about your urges to use—use your phone, that is—even if
the impulses well up, allow yourself some breathing time. It could be boring—so what?

As you practice this, and over time, expanding your digital downtime from one hour to larger chunks of
time, the heart rate slows down, you’re less on edge, even neglected interests begin show up again. Most
people who do find their initial anxieties give way to living at a more chill level, feel more present in life
without even intending to be. What will you end up doing? Maybe riding your bike? Reading a magazine
article without interruption, or a book chapter?

Or perhaps looking into someone’s eyes long enough to get to know them better?

				
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