Addiction of being `switched on` 24/7

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At the turn of the 1970s, sociologists were  concerned that with enhanced technology and increased productivity,  we will soon have so much leisure time that we would not know what to  do with it.

I knew something was seriously wrong when I  recently noticed myself taking my mobile phone yet again to the  bathroom, so I could respond to some messages while in there. Having  successfully kicked the habit, some years ago, to switch-on my  blackberry the first thing in the morning and switch-off the last  thing at night, I was certainly falling prey to the old instincts.

Sometimes  rationalized as being productive, sociologists have a new term for  this phenomenon of being ‘switched on’ all the time – Everydaython – the idea that many of us are trying to run a marathon every day.  Between emails, facebook, apps, chats, videos, and games, this online  busyness is an addiction – something we are unable to let go of,  despite being aware of its harmful effects.

As Nassim Taleb, the author of Fooled  By Randomness, put it,The difference between  technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are  not free.’

What is behind this addiction?

Several factors contribute to our belief that  being perpetually connected is the only way to be in our modern  society.

1. Online activity defines our self-identity

Being busy is not only seen as a necessity, but  also considered almost a reflection of our importance. It’s as if  attending to emails, or posting Facebook updates and waiting for the  response, provides a key purpose to our existence. The sight of  numerous notifications energizes us; and receiving too few emails  overnight is dissatisfying.

As we get more and more invested in being this  way, we begin to subliminally let it define our self-identity. We  start to associate our self-worth with the number of emails we  receive every day, the number of friends on our social network, or  the number of likes on our updates.

2. Social reverence for multi-tasking

The other factor leading to this addiction is  the social reverence for multi-tasking. In our society in general,  and in most of the corporate world in particular, multi-tasking is  valued highly and rewarded handsomely. We love to instantly flip  between emails, calls, apps, books, and newspaper, preferably  managing all of that on one device.

As  an example of how far it has gone: in  a recent survey, it was determined that 38 million Americans have  done online shopping while on their toilet.

3. Restlessness to get somewhere

We are an achievement-oriented society and that  goads us towards higher achievement all the time. While it’s a  wonderful source of energy for the most part, it also has the  potential to make us forever yearning for more. As a result, we are  never content with where we are and are constantly restless to get to  our next high.

No different from a smoking or a drug  addiction, we are unable to wean ourselves off the incessant need to  stay plugged-in. We feel incomplete without it. Unless we get our fix  every few minutes, through some online device, we feel extremely  edgy.

4. Omnipresent accessibility and instant  gratification

The fact that Internet connectivity is now  nearly omnipresent makes being perpetually switched on eminently  viable. It’s very possible to be enjoying a lazy evening when an  innocuous query leads you to google and before you know it, you have  been surfing the net for hours. Simultaneously, split-second search  results and quick-fire responses make being online a platform for  instant gratification.

The  impact

This manic busyness has wide-ranging negative  impact on us. Here are three significant ones.

1. Mental (and physical) health

The constant mental buzz created by being  switched on 24/7 leads to increased anxiety and emotional imbalance.  Restlessness emanating from the desire to multi-task and maximize our  experiences is a significant source of increased stress. Further, a  strong identification with the personal impact of every email/ online  message generates an emotional whirlwind within us.

Owing to an active and anxious mind that  refuses to rest, sleep deprivation is a common outcome. All these  consequences have a serious impact on our physical well-being.  Increased stress levels, coupled with lack of sleep, negatively  influence our immune system, blood pressure, weight-gain, and  effective functioning of the brain, including memory and cognition.

2. Dwindling ability to be present in the  moment

This heightened busyness and multi-tasking  often has exactly the opposite effect to what we are hoping to  accomplish through it – rather than improve, both, our  effectiveness and productivity suffer. While aiming to maximize  through multi-tasking, we end up having fractured attention towards  everything we are engaged in.

While attending to emails, we are also checking  the cricket score; while reading a book, we are also engaged in a  WhatsApp chat. Not being fully present in the moment dilutes our  focus and hence our productivity. Neither our emails turn out to be  well thought through, nor is our reading the book or playing a game a  fulfilling experience.

Unfortunately, the lesser our productivity, the  more we throw ourselves into being busier – making the situation  only worse. Also, the more we get sucked into this busyness, the more  we are unable to pursue other meaningful interests; resulting in  further gravitation, with every free moment, towards the online  world.

3. Relationships

Our inability to be fully engaged in the moment  directly hampers our listening and the quality of connection with  people in our life, particularly our family members. Further, being  constantly mentally occupied makes us more irritable, as every  unexpected demand from the family on our time is a perceived threat  to our plans.

Besides, getting addicted to our devices takes  us away from our family. Not only do people not have time for their  kids, increasingly people in many large cities do not have time to  even have kids.

What we can do about it

People  often expect different results, while doing the same actions.’ – Alcoholics Anonymous

1. Being disciplined about creating clear  offline time

It is imperative that we create some clear  offline time in our typical day – a non-negotiable window of time  when we are not connected to any online device. It could be an hour  or two every weekday evening or a stretch of time, say from 9:30 pm  to 8:30 am; and a similar stretch of time over weekends, say, Sundays  10 am to 7 pm. You could also plan on certain activities on any day  where you commit to necessarily be offline – at dinner, in the gym,  or during reading time.

2. Quality down time

Sometimes, creating offline time is not enough  as unless you have a concrete activity you are engaged in, it’s  tempting to go back to your device. Actively pursuing certain  personal interests or family activities often allows us to switch off  more completely. Pursuing such activities – sport, reading, playing  with the kids – and consciously choosing to switch-off physically  and mentally from the online world during that time can be greatly  helpful.

3. Practicing mindfulness

Research clearly demonstrates that  multi-tasking does not produce effective results, whether for  business leaders or teenage students. Practicing mindfulness can help  us learn to focus our attention more fully on one thing at a time.  This can raise our productivity, work effectiveness, quality of our  relationships and emotional well-being.

Mindfulness can also support us in being  reflective in better assessing our priorities – and paying greater  attention to them. Finally, with this practice, we can be more  mindful of the choices we are making from moment to moment – we are  then able to exert greater self-control when that urge to get online  arises instinctively and are able to set it aside more effectively.

Rajiv Vij is a life coach and author of  recently released ‘Discovering Your Sweet Spot: A soul-searching  guide for creating the life you really want.’ Author’s website:  www.rajivvij.com

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