Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone? The Dangers of Digital Addictions
One of the first points I make to new clients is the need to heavily manage the time they spend on their smartphones and other digital devices. While the technology that drives our exposure to media has opened up the world of possibilities and opportunities for people around the world, it has also served to cripple and paralyze the minds of many of those same people. There is a wealth of empirical data that suggests that we have become addicted to digital technology. This technology that should connect us has caused us to become more disconnected than ever. We don’t call, we text. We don’t visit, we send inbox messages.
There has been more than one occasion where people have filmed people drawing instead of trying to find a way to save them. Everyone is either in front of a camera or behind one.
Maintaining Your Personal Sovereignty
I am a firm believer that how you start your day will have a massive impact on how your day goes. It does not mean that if you start your day on a positive note that things will not go wrong during the day; it means that starting your day in the right frame of mind will place you in the best position to effectively meet the challenges of the day when they arrive.
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Here is the problem, the vast majority of the industrialized population grabs their phone the first thing after waking up in the morning. Even before rolling out of bed, they have the phone in their hand. When the first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your phone, you are surrendering your personal sovereignty — the ability to be in control of your life and its affairs. You make yourself vulnerable and reactive to whatever is on that phone — emails, text messages, social media notifications, comments on previous social media posts, news of current events, and more.
I believe that when you are able to win the first hour of the day, you will win the day. In order to win the first hour, you have to have control of what you encounter that will impact your STATE (your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical state of being). When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is establish a heart of gratitude. I identify at least three things I have to be grateful for. One thing is constant. I look over at my wife and as I watch her take a breath, my heart swells with gratitude.
What I can tell you is that it is impossible to harbor low-vibration attitudes when you are functioning from a place of gratitude. Low-vibration attitudes include fear, anger, jealousy, envy, sadness, anxiety, worry, etc. So, if the first hour of your day is immensely important, the first five minutes of that first hour is literally the key to the treasure of creating and manifesting the life you want to live; however, if you are picking up that phone before you do anything else, you are surrendering your personal sovereignty and you become a prisoner to what you discover when you begin scrolling. Maybe you got some great news and it puts you in an awesome state, but what happens when you have bad news or you receive a notification of pending challenges for the day before you have had a chance to set your STATE?
Here is another problem with surrendering your sovereignty to your smart devices (including, tablets, computers, televisions, radios, etc.) — even when the news is good, you are training your brain to find its STATE by consulting a device. At that point, you no longer have the sovereignty to set your state, but you are at the mercy of what you discover on your device. Most of us have our devices set to send us all types of push notifications that deal with every aspect of our lives. The problem is that we don’t control when those notifications arrive. When you give up your personal sovereignty, You will begin to notice that your movement and your mindset has become highly capricious. Why is this? It is because your state is being controlled by the information you are receiving, instead of being controlled by a state of gratitude that will help you properly contextualize and frame every situation.
The Dopamine Factor
If we are to effectively manage the access to such digital prowess, we must develop a comprehensive perspicacity of how it impacts us. It is imperative that we understand that digital technology that delivers information is designed to be addictive. A recent study conducted by Harvard University discovered that dopamine levels rise significantly is direct correspondence to smartphone exposure.
What is dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain‘s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards but to take action to move toward them. Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction. The presence of a certain kind of dopamine receptor is also associated with sensation-seeking people, more commonly known as “risk takers (Staff, 2018).”
Dopamine is known as the feel-good hormone. It is where we get our sense of pleasure. Not only does dopamine help us sense pleasure in certain experiences, but it also drives us to seek those experiences — leading many experts on addiction to the conclusion that dopamine plays a significant role in the development of addictions. What is interesting is the fact that the lower the capacity to produce dopamine autonomously through multiple activities makes a person more susceptible to addiction. In other words, when a person is unable to create pleasurable experiences for themselves, they become vulnerable to mechanisms, devices, and chemicals that can.
One of the inherent dangers of smartphones is that they are designed to produce dopamine rushes, and most people are getting the majority of their dopamine fixes from their phones without ever knowing it. Things like family time, walks in the park, simple conversations have been replaced with scrolling devices.
Allow me a moment to elucidate my point here. While my primary focus here is smartphones, this takes place with tablets, laptops, computers, televisions, radios, video games, and more. I recently deleted a video game called Golf Crush from my smartphone. There were two primary reasons:
- I found myself playing the game when I should have been doing something more productive (outside of the allotted time to play.)
- I found myself allowing my mood and STATE to be determined by how well I played at a given time. That is what you call surrendering your sovereignty.
Fortunately for me, I have a lot of sources to drive my dopamine production so I never experienced withdrawals from the game and I don’t miss it.
What should also be understood here is the fact that it isn’t simply your smartphone (digital devices) that is the problem, but it is all of the mediums of engagement (social media, mobile apps, internet, etc.) that contribute to this problem as well. See, the same understanding of neuroscience that leads me and other experts to the conclusions set forth here is currently being exploited by your favorite social media platforms, mobile app developers, news outlets, and more. The chances are that you came across this article through one of the aforementioned channels.
The Danger for Young Children
Because the technology in question is still relatively new, we have not yet experienced the long-term ramifications of its use. My generation never had cell phones or computers as children, but the generation that is growing up now was born into it. It is not uncommon to see five-year-olds with cell phones. Toddlers as young as two are swiping and scrolling on tablets. This generation of parenting regnantly consists of using technology to babysit our children. We use devices to keep our children quiet and still — not giving consideration to the importance of movement and discovery in their growth and development (Sobel & Sommerville, 2010; Gabbard & Rodrigues, 2017). Children were not meant to sit still and be quiet.
When we relegate children to engaging life through digital devices, we simultaneously limit their capacity to develop and expand themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically.
When it comes to our older children, the nefarious disruptions of digital addiction and influence are even more evident. Have you been in the same room with your teen or preteen and watched them scroll their phones for hours? When you are riding in the car or out in public do they find it hard to set their phones down for even the shortest periods of time? You will also find that your least active child will have the highest screen time in the house. The more active the child, the more sources of dopamine production they have at their disposal. Kids who have multiple things to keep them engaged are not as dependent on their smartphones and social media to make them feel good.
Neuroplasticity is a term used in neuroscience to describe the ability to change the way that the brain is wired to change thinking and outcomes. We are constantly rewiring our brains over the course of our lives. The thoughts we engage, our daily experiences, and the information that we encounter all contribute to the shaping of our thinking through the rewiring of our brain. When a child’s day is dominated by screen time, the way the brain is wired will be heavily influenced by what they engage during that screen time. Just as that screen time is limiting them physically, it is also limiting their exposure to a vast world and what it has to offer — not to mention the inherent dangers associated with unmonitored smartphone use. There are predators out there looking to prime and exploit your children and these children are not prepared to defend themselves against these threats.
When you understand how neuroplasticity works, you will understand that the former idea that you are pretty much who you are going to be by the age of five is not true. You have the capacity to grow and evolve by managing what you expose yourself to on a regular basis. The more prevalent the exposure, the more it will impact how your brain is being rewired. You can teach your brain to improve in a way that will benefit you in achieving goals and accomplishments or you can train your brain to work against you. I don’t think this is a decision that we should leave up to our children.
Another danger is that the internet is unregulated. There are no rules or checks and balances to ensure the accuracy of the information that is out there. Without proper training in the validation of sources, it is easy to be misinformed and misled. No matter what your belief, you are likely able to find something on the internet to support it. Our children are not advanced enough in this area to discern what is true and what is not.
Earlier this summer, my wife and I noticed some of the behaviors I have referred to in our teens. Our immediate response was to cut and regulate screen time. We are still making adjustments. What I recommend is observing your children after you cut their screen time. Do they immediately find something constructive to do, or do they become lethargic and unintentional in their actions and activity? Pay attention to whether they tend to sleep away the time in which they don’t have their phones. This is a clear indicator that they are heavily dependent on their devices for a sense of wellbeing.
The Depth of Digital Addiction
Because we see nothing inherently wrong with smartphones and the internet, and many of us run our businesses and do our jobs through these mediums, we fail to see the threat associated with massive exposure. When I use the term “massive exposure,” I am referring specifically to uncontrolled and undesignated exposure. When you are just there to be there. You are not working, you are not researching, you are not building your brand or sharing your message, but just filling in space and wasting time.
I have been out to dinner or lunch with my wife and we took notice of all of the people who were sitting with someone while scrolling their phones. Interpersonal engagement is immensely important to the holistic development and fulfillment of humans (Weber, 2007). It is not just our children that have been pulled in by the kinetic force of digital technology. I have observed a family sitting at a table and every last member, including the parents, was deeply consumed by whatever they were looking at on their screen. They were ignoring one another, failing to enjoy the opportunity to engage one another. We are literally training ourselves to be inattentive to the needs of those who should matter the most.
This unfettered exposure to the digital world has also served to desensitize us to some of the most grotesque behavior imaginable. Teen violence is at an all-time high and it is being broadcasted daily. The more teens view it, the less appalled and upset it makes them, increasing the risk of them committing an act of violence (Staff, 2017).
Any time that something becomes so prevalent in our lives, we are forced to ask and answer the question of why. We must also determine if this thing is working for our betterment or to our detriment. No one in a free industrialized society is exempt from this threat or uninfluenced by it. How often are you holding your phone during the day? How hard is it not to look at your phone while eating or holding a conversation? For us to function optimally, we must maintain our personal sovereignty in order to ensure that we are setting the direction for our lives. Most of the world’s population is reactive to the external situations around them. It is only when you are able to develop the calm and stability created by a heart of gratitude will you be able to engage an unpredictable world with certainty and confidence. It is time that we reclaim the power of personal sovereignty — being proactive in designating how we will use this technology to our benefit rather than our detriment. ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.
Dreifus, C. (2017). Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens. New York Times.
Gabbard, C., & Rodrigues, L. (2017). Optimizing Early Brain and Motor Development through Movement. Early Childhood News.
Haynes, T. (2018). Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A Battle for Your Time. Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Sobel, D. M., & Sommerville, J. A. (2010). The Importance of Discovery in Children’s Casual Learning from Interventions. Naitonal Institutes of Health – Fronteirs in Psychology.
Staff, E. (2017). Risk Factors for Youth Violence. Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General.
Staff, E. (2018). What is Dopamine? Psychology Today.
Weber, M. J. (2007). The Importance of Interpersonal Relationships. National Counsel of Professors.
Dr. Rick Wallace is the Founder & CEO of The Visionetics Institute and the author of 20 books that include Born in Captivity: Psychopathology as a Legacy of Slavery and Critical Mass: The Phenomenon of Next-Level Living. He is a leading contributor to the development of solutions that will lead to the elevation and empowerment of the Black collective.