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Hyperconnectivity and The Power of Habit


I’ve always had trouble sleeping. Ever since I was little, the thought of falling asleep made me anxious. Once I was asleep, however, I’d sleep like a rock. Nothing could wake me. It was just the falling asleep part that I could never master.

When I was small, I’m sure a lot of it had to do with seeing too many scary things on TV or letting my brain get one step deeper into my irrational fear that everyone I love will die suddenly right before my eyes.

Now, it has a lot to do with the equally irrational fear of missing out (now affectionately referred to as FOMO) plus the compulsive need to check my phone/iPad/Macbook. I hadn’t analyzed the feeling before until last night when I finally noticed my hand reaching for my phone even when I hadn’t told it to. After finishing The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg last week, I learned how routines provide rewards and the urge to have those rewards turn simple routines into habits. And habits can be dangerous.

Some people talk about my generation being addicted to technology, to social media specifically. I would argue that it’s not the technology and it’s not an addiction, but rather an exploration of our innate need to feel connected to the people around us. Social media has made this possible, and mobile phones (and other technology) have made it accessible at all times.

Before I fall asleep, I must make my rounds – checking email in case anything is happening (not that it matters because something is always happening and I’m not going to get to it until the morning anyway), refreshing Facebook to see who got engaged (not that I care), logging on to Foursquare in case anyone is nearby (not that I would go meet them anyway), and most importantly, scrolling through Instagram to see what beautiful food is being photographed and filtered (not that I’m going to remember).

Obviously, these things are all VERY important, and I absolutely cannot sleep without them.

So, I tried a little experiment last night. I focused very hard on not picking up my phone. I laid still with my eyes closed and didn’t check the interwebz no matter how much I wanted to.

Guess what happened?

I fell asleep.

I know this is all really ridiculous and I might be the only one admitting that I have a problem here, but I know I’m not alone. The small reward of seeing something interesting or funny or personal on these social network has caused me to form a habit of needing to see and know everything all the time, even when I don’t actually care to see or know. It’s a deeper level of need that surpasses any level of want. It’s the difference between a good night’s sleep and the tortured (albeit temporary) toss and turn.

The human habit of always checking, always on is a product of the technology behind the very foundation of how our phones work. It’s a beautiful thing when we can fix a website, solve a problem, or send a gift with the touch of a 4 inch screen. It becomes ugly when we cannot tear ourselves away, even for sleep, which to me is the most important thing when it comes to happiness and productivity.

The “always on” thing doesn’t work. What works is being 110% ON 100% of the time that you’re available, turning yourself 110% OFF 100% of the time that you’re unavailable, and being completely clear with yourself and those around you about when those times occur.

  • JayBaer says:

    There’s also apparently evidence to suggest that looking at backlit screens before bed messes up your chemistry and wrecks your sleep. I don’t follow that advice, of course, and am on ipad at least 30 minutes right before bed. Probably not a good idea.

    October 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm
    • jessostroff says:

      @JayBaer Yeah, my mom sends me articles about the brain all the time (she teaches a class on it) and a lot of them have to do with what happens when we look at screens all the time, especially before bed. Apple should offer some kind of Anonymous group for us!

      October 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm
    • ChrisQueso says:

      @JayBaer My wife has caught me “spooning” with my iPad numerous times. I often fall asleep listening to an audiobook or something, but yeah dude… I’m with you there.

      October 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm
  • jasonkonopinski says:

    The “always on” mentality is something that so many of us in the industry struggle with – and it leads to some serious burnout issues.

    October 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm
    • jessostroff says:

      @jasonkonopinski I feel like burnout is the least of our worries though, don’t you? It’s doing so much more than that! Like what Jay said below, studies show that it’s messing with our entire brain chemistry. Not to mention that feeling of withdrawal that I’ve been going through. Scary stuff!

      October 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm

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