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Addicted to distraction: are you controlling your technology or is it controlling you?

Published on July, 30th 2018
By Greg Wells

A few years ago, I was sitting at the back of a conference session with my buddy Bruce Bowser, President and CEO of AMJ Campbell. The speaker was riveting, and we were thoroughly engaged. But at some point during the presentation, Bruce and I started to look at the audience. What we saw was shocking.

As we looked around the room, there was a significant percentage of the audience on their phones. Bruce and I exchanged glances and gestures of disbelief. Then, at a break in the session, we went outside where the crowd was lingering and discovered 98% of the people in attendance were on their devices. When the day’s sessions ended, Bruce and I headed out for a walk in this beautiful old European city, and we had to avoid colliding with several people who had their faces down in their phones and nearly walked into us.

Bruce and I had been talking about distraction for several months, and right then made a decision. We said to each other, “This is crazy. We have to do something. We have to write a book about this.”

A year later, The Focus Effect came out, and with next to no marketing, it shot to number one at Amazon in Canada and the US. Since then, we have received regular contact from people from all walks of life saying, “This is exactly what I needed.”

I think the book hit a nerve because people are beginning to take a long, hard look at how they interact with technology. In particular, there is a growing recognition that many, many of us have a less-than-healthy relationship with our devices.

Consider what Dr. Gabor Maté says about addiction in his bestselling book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: “Addiction is any repeated behaviour, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on their life or the lives of others.” Maté goes on to suggest that a simple method for assessing if a behaviour is an addiction is to ask this question: is the behaviour controlling you or are you controlling the behaviour?

Based on those definitions, it’s not a stretch to conclude that most of us are addicted to distraction.

So what’s to be done?

First and foremost, as with any addiction, you have to acknowledge there is a problem.

Smartphones are one of the greatest ever human inventions. We have the entire history of knowledge in our pocket. We can connect to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Social media offers an unprecedented platform for the discourse, engagement and awareness that gives social movements speed and force. Would #MeToo have been possible before the advent of hashtag culture?

But like many innovations, the ubiquitous and immediate nature of smartphone access has a downside. Our phone can pull us away from what is happening around us. We can end up at a magnificent concert and be more concerned about filming it than taking in the performance. We can be perpetually distant from those around us. We can get lost in it.

I’ll give you a worrying example.

I did a session recently with a bunch of teen athletes, and three 16-year old girls approached me afterwards. We were talking about sports and training when one of them broke down crying and shaking. She was realizing that she was full-on addicted to Instagram.

Through her tears, she explained that she had been waking up at 3:00 a.m. to check her feed and see how many likes she got from the night before. She explained that it was putting a huge strain on her and making it really hard to be a committed and successful athlete.

I suspect her story is all too familiar for many people. Fortunately, there is something to be done.

To me, the ultimate issue is intentionality. Can you learn to use your phone for intentional communication with the people you love?

Fabulous. Can you intentionally engage with social media to celebrate and congratulate people on amazing things that are happening in their lives? Awesome.

If not, you will continue to fall into a state of passive consumption, scrolling through your feeds mindlessly. When that happens, the behaviour is definitely controlling you rather than the other way around.

I hope you enjoyed this article!

If you’re interested in getting a copy of my book The Ripple Effect you can get it here!

And my new book – The Focus Effect – is available at this link.

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