Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina is a coach, TEDx and public speaker, and author of Homo Distractus. She is the founder of Consciously Digital,
Below is the full text of her TEDx Talk titled “Could you live without a smartphone?” at TEDxWandsworth conference.
This sculpture by Sophie Ryder in the UK seat of Salisbury had to be moved, because people busy texting on their mobile phones kept bumping their heads into it.
Does it happen to you to text, phone, check your Facebook timeline or maybe catch a Pokémon while you’re walking? And who does that?
How many of these times do you actually have to go on line?
Well, we check our devices, about 221 times per day according to Tecmark, or about every 4.3 minutes of the time we don’t sleep.
What is going on?
Well, we live in the economy that is based on distraction. The more Internet pages you browse through, the more advertising an Internet company can show you, and so the more money they make.
Their success metrics are based around how much time you spent using their app, or you were on their website, not on how productive or focused you are.
Two years ago, around the same time of the year, I decided to give up my smartphone, and replace it with a very basic no Internet phone.
At the time, I was working in a senior position in digital marketing industry, which means that I was connected pretty much 24/7.
I slept with my phone, and I kept checking it all the time, and even felt it vibrating in my pockets when I didn’t have any pockets.
Giving up my smartphone was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. And today, I want to share with you my key learnings from the journey of taking back control over my time and my life.
But, before we do that, I want to give you a little challenge.
Given that we check our devices about every 4.3 minutes, this means that you will feel an urge to check your device three or four times during my talk.
So, I want to challenge you to resist this urge and count how many times you will succeed in doing that.
So, Lesson No. 1: You are more addicted to your device than you think.
But you’re also much more resourceful.
Now, why can’t we go for 5 minutes without our devices?
A U.S. psychologist, David Greenfield, says the Internet is like a slot machine: you never know what you’re going to find inside. And this variability of the reward releases dopamine, the neurohormone of pleasure and anticipation of the reward.
The problem with dopamine is that excessive stimulation of your brain that is caused by dopamine creates addiction.
This is exactly how drugs work. They first make you feel excited, but then you have to go back and take a new dose, to have the same feeling.
So devices use the same principles. You never know what you’re going to expect in your mailbox or on social media, right?
One day you get a “Like” and then the next day 50 “Likes.” Bam! Dopamine releases. You feel great!
But then the excitement fades pretty quickly, and you need to go back to your device to feel good again.
Technology is purposefully designed the way to make you use it over and over again.
We also feel dependent on our gadgets, because we have outsourced too many important functions to them.
Has it happened to you to go to Google Maps or any other kind of online maps, and look up your way even though you kind of knew how to get there? This is exactly what I mean, we easily get into the habit of not trusting ourselves.
Well, you know what? I discovered it’s not actually very easy to get lost in London. There are maps all around. And all I needed to do was to look up my way once before leaving the house, and then I could always ask people in the streets.
I realize that I have outsourced to technology too many things that were important to me, that made me human, like my sense of orientation and direction, my memories of spaces and certain events, and it felt great to gain them back.
All I wanted, when I was giving up my smartphone, was to have a little bit more clarity in my brain and not to feel so overwhelmed.
And what I unexpectedly gained was a feeling that I will find my way no matter what both physically and metaphorically. And, of course, a great chat up line to make new connections. “Sorry, I don’t have a smartphone, could you please help?”
Lesson No. 2. If you want to change your digital habits, do not rely on your willpower.
Instead, create structures around you to support you in that.
Our brain is very lazy. So when we repeat a certain action over and over again, it starts organizing our brain cells, neurons, into particular chains so that it is easier to pass the information through those chains.
This makes our behavior automatic and unconscious. And this is exactly what notifications do. They prompt you to come back to your device over and over and over again, up until your behavior becomes automatic and unconscious.
According to Kahuna report, 87% of Android users and 48% of iOS users opt in for receiving app notifications on their devices. Or, in other words, all these people allow their devices to decide how they will behave.
Once these chains are formed, it takes quite a long time and effort to undo them, and relying on your willpower doesn’t help.
I certainly learned it twice. For the first time, when it took me five months from the decision of giving up my smartphone to actually doing it. And for the second time, when after about a year of not owning any smartphone I got one back, which I thought, I would only use as a spare device, in case my laptop breaks down and I need to talk to clients over Skype.
And in no time, I found myself using it all the time. The neural path was still there.
Now, it felt incredibly embarrassing, because at the time I was already conducting digital detox trainings. I obviously was not walking my talk, but it also gave me great insights into the real challenges that people who do not want to give up their devices altogether face.