My Name Is Jade, And I'm An Addict
I was having a conversation with a client the other day about a TV series we are both currently watching. She asked me if I was enjoying it and after pausing for thought, I couldn’t really answer her… and I realised that I hadn’t really watched it.
As I had been watching each episode, I had simultaneously been eating dinner, chatting with my boyfriend who was on our other lounge opposite me, also “watching” and I was intermittently switching between my iPad and my iPhone as I replied to Facebook messages and perused Instagram stories.
Not only had I not even engaged with the TV series more than enough to know a basic outline of what was going on, I wasn’t properly engaging with any of it, not a single task that I was completing at the time.
This ineffective and overstimulating multi-tasking seems to be the norm these days though.
Think about this: when you’re out for coffee or lunch with your friends, are you both scrolling through social media while you’re talking with one another? How many times are you checking your phone? You’re probably doing it without even realising it!
A 2017 report commissioned by tech company LivePerson, surveyed 4,013 consumers aged 18-34 around the world and found that:
of people sleep with their phone within arm’s reach.
take their phone to the bathroom with them.
said they would rather leave their wallet at home instead of their phone.
check their phone if they wake up briefly during the night.
considered it acceptable to text at a family dinner.
considered it acceptable to text during an in-person conversation.
Traditionally, the ability to multitask is seen as a skill to be proud of, but how effectively can you manage multiple things at once? If our attention is constantly being diverted between multiple things, are we actually being effective at any one thing?
Have we been overstimulated to the point where we are now incapable of focusing on a singular task?
Let’s get a bit science-y for a second.
Dopamine is the chemical neurotransmitter released by our brains that gives us feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and increased motivation. It gets released when we eat the foods we like, when we have sex, after exercising, and when we have successful social interactions.
Essentially, it’s responsible for that rewarding feeling we get after doing these behaviours and it is what motivates us to repeat them. Once our brain can anticipate a reward following a behaviour, it enables this behaviour to become a habit.
This is a useful and necessary part of our system, that has now been abused and manipulated in our current digital age.
Social media app creators have admitted that they integrate specific design features geared towards providing small dopamine hits, such as that little red notification tab, to keep us as engaged as possible, as often as possible.
Think about all the times throughout the day you get a notification from Facebook or Instagram, and you’ll notice that a large amount of them are actually generated by the app, not from an actual person’s interaction.
With so much access to those small dopamine hits, we are becoming increasingly addicted and as time goes on, our dopamine receptors are becoming less responsive and require more powerful stimulation to release the dopamine we’re craving.
So how can we overcome this sensory overload?
Ultimately, simply having an awareness of the issue and making a conscious effort to stop engaging with various stimuli simultaneously, or as often, is going to have the biggest impact in reducing overstimulation.
In saying that, these small actions may also help:
1. Make an agreement with your partner or loved ones to put the phones away when spending time together.
2. Don’t eat dinner in front of the TV.
3. Disable your notifications for social media apps.
4. Limit your home screen apps to apps that you genuinely need for productivity, and remove any that are simply a distraction.
5. Turn on Do Not Disturb mode on your phone when you go to sleep to stop notifications coming through during the night
Pick two or three actions that are going to to have the biggest impact on reducing overstimulation for you, and try them out for two weeks!