A few years ago, I read this book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr, for my first year communications class. The book focuses on the effects the Internet has on our brains; looking at how different our productivity, concentration, creativity, etc, are with the Internet being such a prominent figure in our lives. He found that there is a significant difference between the brains of those who regularly use the Internet and all it entails and those who don’t. He also found that his ability to focus on reading a book diminished because he wasn’t able to sit down and read without loosing his concentration, because he’d get distracted by his phone or quickly loose interest. His ability to think deeply on topics that used to intrigue him and doing research became taxing. His thought process and the way his brain accepted information changed with the increase of new technology. After reading this book, I seriously noticed the change my life undertook because of the internet.
I was born in the early 90’s, so my childhood was a mixture of the classic ‘go play outside’ kid thing and experimenting on the new household computer that came with dial up Internet. Looking back on my childhood and comparing it to the kind of childhood kids have now, I’m glad that I wasn’t a computer/phone focused kid. I mean yes, they were around but since that technology was still in its infancy I felt I was able to have a fairly lax relationship with it. I loved reading when I was younger; so much so that I could usually finish a book in a single sitting. As I grew up and the internet took a more prominent seat in my life I noticed that I slowly stopped reading as much. My focus started to gravitate toward the internet and chatting online with friends. Now when I try to read a book, I can’t focus for more than a few minutes; I end up checking my phone or open an app to scroll through feeds until I remember I was trying to read. Same thing happened to me in class when I was in university. Whenever I got bored or I saw a notification light up my phone, I would check it and get distracted thus putting me behind in lecture. This became a vicious cycle.
My boyfriend hates when I’m on my phone, and I don’t blame him. I know I have problem which somehow makes my addiction worse. I like scrolling through Instagram, opening Snapchat stories, sending Snapchats, looking at my Facebook group messages. I feel connected and up to date with my friends and their lives. I like stumbling across new Instagram feeds for local restaurants or stores. With my acknowledgement of my problem though, I feel like I should take some steps to help me out and reorient my life.
I recently downloaded this Android app called QualityTime. It tracks your ‘digital diet’, or the amount of time you spend on apps. It tracks your history and shows your usage trends. This app has a feature that allows you to ‘take a break’ which helps to minimize your phone notifications, allowing you to focus on whatever it is that you are doing. I’ve only had this app for a few days, but already I can see how much I use my phone. Once I’ve had the app for a bit longer, I’ll have a better sense of my phone habits which will help me switch off my phone more often. There is a similar app for Apple users called Moment, which tracks your overall usage of your Apply products.
During finals in university I always struggled with focusing on studying because my computer posed too much of a distraction. I found these programs to be useful to me when I was trying to procrastinate. For Windows users, there is a site called Cold Turkey and for Mac users, an app called Self Control. Both sites do similar things, such as blocking certain websites for a set time period. These programs have gone through some major modifications since the last time I used it, but all for the better, including updates toward having a schedule, group settings, advanced settings, and more! These sites really help if you have no control and you know you’ll just end up on your favorite site.
I hope that I’ll be able to garner some control or at least balance between my online life and ‘real’ life. I honestly feel like the development of the internet just happened all at once and it took everyone by storm. It’s so overwhelming at times and since there’s so much you can do online, it can feel like you have to see and do it all. While I believe that what the internet and social media holds for us is important, it is more important to have a healthy ‘digital diet.’
Has anyone else had similar issues of feeling addicted to their phone/social media?
Is this idea that the Internet has changed the way our brains think something we should look into?
Let me know if you think these sites and apps are worth the effort or do you think its a mind over matter kind of situation. Until next time, check out this video from Refinery29, in which they ask people about their social media lives!