The Age of Information Addiction (A Social Experiment)

You are a compulsive addict. Yes, you. Without realizing it, you have (likely) formed a psychological need for the habit-forming substance known as a cell phone. The good news? You are not alone, and I can prove it.

I decided I wanted to answer the common question, are we addicted to our phones? I first needed to determine if there was indeed a habit-forming need for our phones, or if this was all being blown out proportion. So, I went to my local park on a beautiful sunny day to conduct a social experiment and find out. Take a look. Oh, and be sure to turn on the captions.

I blurred faces and removed audio out of respect for the pedestrians that were filmed (to the best of my ability). I also don’t need to elaborate on the situational irony (yes, I was also on my phone). But to be honest, it was an incredibly valuable and humbling experience. Primarily, it allowed me to take seriously the hypothesis that humans are addicted to their cell phones. Perhaps even genetically predisposed. Including me. But I started to ask myself, what exactly were all these people doing on their phones? Emailing, texting, scrolling? Maybe all the talk about cell phone addiction was missing the bigger point.

We are addicted to information.

Today, cell phones have become our primary medium for consuming addictive information. However, cell phones are simply the current technology allowing us to satisfy that addiction in real-time. Books, radio, tv, cell phones are the progressive channels in which we have consumed an increasing amount of information over the years. Shout out to pagers.

Is it crazy to think that a dozen years from now, integrated wearables will displace phones and become our new primary source of information? Is it not just a matter of time before advancements in augmented reality have you wearing a contact lens that displays your social media feeds, political news headlines, and fantasy football scores? It won’t be long before you are scrolling through your Instagram feed using simple eye movements. Cell phones will see the same fate as that pager buried in your junk drawer.

Our source of information will continue to evolve with each passing generation, but our addiction is unlikely to subside. However, unlike most addictions where the primary goal is to eliminate the source, we have built a society that increasingly requires we adopt information technology. It is no longer possible to go from 1 to 0. Nor do I believe we want or need to. Rather, I believe we can reduce our information dependency while concurrently reshaping our addictive behavior.

Let’s use it to become vastly more skilled and intelligent.

To be honest, I was never much of a writer. In school, I achieved moderate grades in subjects like English and Literature. I struggled to transform my creative thoughts into words that accurately and amusingly expressed my views on a particular subject. Put bluntly, I was a boring writer. I was writing because I had to. This was a genuinely frustrating state of being. So, a few years ago I decided I was going to commit to improving my writing skills. I needed to learn how to better articulate my thoughts in order to gain the confidence to share them.

As I was unable to increase the number of hours in a day, I knew I was going to have to repurpose the way I engaged with my phone and remove excessive distractions. I started by reducing my total amount of screen time. I needed more balance. Balance is of great consideration when determining how you interact with technology on a daily basis. Reducing your screen time will lead to improved sleep, reduced anxiety, increased focus, and a presence that will strengthen your relationships.

I also needed to adjust my screen time habits. For me, and I imagine many of you, my key unnecessary distraction was social media. There is scrolling, and then there is mindless scrolling. Thus, I decided to close all my social media accounts exclusive of LinkedIn, vowing to use it for its intended purpose (such as writing this article). For those that have the ability to manage your daily usage and stay disciplined, it may not require such radical actions. Look through your phone usage settings and determine the one or two places where you spend considerable time absorbing information that is unequivocally inferior to educating yourself. Remove them, or implement a way to cut down usage.

This is not as boring as it sounds. If you spend the time developing or improving skillsets you are truly passionate about, you will not miss what you left behind. For me, this included writing. Rather than scrolling through social feeds, I used my newfound time to research and study writing techniques, install software such as Grammarly to improve my syntax, read more authentic literature to better understand prose, and take master classes to learn from the best in the business. All while reducing my initial screen time. I am by no means a great writer, but I continue to improve. Just read my posts from years ago (please don’t).

It is not easy to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable means feeling exposed. It represents what we may not have control over. But it is also something each of us needs to be more accepting of in business and in our personal lives. Being vulnerable means being present. Being comfortable accepting the challenges and hardships we similarly face. Working together to improve the lives of one another by first improving our own. My journey to becoming an improved author is my attempt to help improve yours.

Ben Hubbard