Cell Block Challenge: What is the addiction to tech doing to your brain

Cell Block Challenge: What is the addiction to tech doing to your brain

We carry the world at our fingertips. Advances in technology have made our smartphones more invaluable than ever before. But all those notifications and all that scrolling can have adverse effects, too; access to tech is changing not only our brains, but also the way we interact with the world.

You see it every time you walk down the street. Everyone around us seems to be looking down.
“It’s like protection, you feel like you’re in your bubble,” said Gonzaga University senior and KXLY 4 producer Kelsie Morgan. “[It’s like] this stranger is not going to look at me or this stranger is not going to make eye contact with me because I’m on my phone and I can avoid them.”

Kelsie has grown up with a smartphone and can’t imagine life without it. Even though she realizes all that scrolling isn’t always adding something of value to her life.

“I checked this three minutes ago, there’s nothing new here,” she said of her scrolling habit. “You’re just wasting your time going from app to app.”

It’s not just Keslie’s generation. The smartphone addiction impacts everyone from pre-teens to grandmothers and seemingly everyone in between.

“I spend a good percentage of my morning and evening on the phone,” said Coeur d’Alene working mom Phaedra Hansen. “During the day when I’m at work, I try to be on it less. But, on weekends, it’s constant.”

She knows that spending time on her smartphone is a time suck.

“Why do I sit down to look at it for five minutes, then an hour goes by and I’m still doing the same thing?” she asked.

Even people who remember life before all this tech can feel like a slave to it.
“To be honest, it’s like Pavlov,” said Spokane dad, husband and financial planner Mike Welch. “I’m trained to pick it up.”

Welch doesn’t have social media on his phone, but he still spends plenty of time texting with his family, comparison shopping and checking NFL scores. He remembers life before all of this and what his brain could do when it wasn’t preoccupied with what was on his phone.

He specifically remembers a time without tech: when he was in his 20’s and worked in a fishing village in Alaska.

“We had barely a satellite television, that’s if the weather was right,” Welch recalled. “I devoured books. I’ve never read so much in my life. I consider that time of my life that my mind awakened. Because of [that phone] right there, you don’t have that silent, meditative, prayer-like [time] to just let your mind wander.”

How did we get to this point that we need to isolate ourselves in a remote village to finally break free from the connections? And, what’s it doing to our brains?

“I quote someone who says ‘the only people who call customers users are drug dealers and technologists,” said journalist and author Manoush Zomorodi.

In her book Bored and Brilliant, Zomorodi lays out the science behind what all this tech is doing to our brains. Facts like the mere presence of tech, even just sitting on a table, can lower the empathy between friends; we’re switching between tasks every 45 seconds; when we respond to a ping or notification, it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to what we were doing. And, the key message: all this information, constantly a click away, means we never zone out. Our brains aren’t open to creativity and new ideas.

“[People are] dealing with informatino overload,” Zomorodi said. “They’re feeling as though maybe they’re addicted to their devices. They’re feeling like maybe their devices are not acting as tools – they’re not improving their lives as much as they’re supposed to. They’ve kind of been turned into taskmasters.”

Zomorodi put listeners of her Note to Self podcast to the test. They tracked their phone use and took a few simple steps to cut back. In that study, participants checked their phones 40 to 50 times a day. Others checked into their phones as high as 150 times a day.
So, what’s the answer? We can’t completely disconnect!

“Totally,” Zomorodi agreed. “This is not a digital detox. It’s not on or off. Most of us can’t live like that.”

But, we can take steps to take back some control and get back a few hours in the week. We can force our brains to open up to the world.

We put Kelsie, Phaedra and Mike through the challenge. We hope you’ll try it along with them. Each step is easy and is just for one day. All of the steps are designed to help you make conscious choices about when you reach for your phone.

We’ll walk you through it and hope you can get Bored and Brilliant, too.