We Need to Talk About Your Siri Problem

Friday, September 6, 2013

Before we get into the post, let’s wrap up MMM’s Back to School giveaway. We have ourselves a winnuh.

The lucky reader walking away with all the goodness from Honest Tea, Honest Kids, and Mabel’s Labels is: DENISE!

Congratulations, Denise. I’ll email you next to get your information, and your winnings will be sent along shortly.

Thanks for commenting, everyone. And stay tuned, more giveaways coming next week!


As you know, I’m writer and freelance journalist, and I work from a home office that will sometimes stretch to include the local Starbucks. I’ve been doing the freelance thing for a while. I took breaks from being my own boss a few times over the years, working as an editor at a magazine or on a contract gig at an online pub, and the change in environment was good. Being able to bump into someone in the tiny kitchen and hear a real-time recap of what happened on Breaking Bad or D-List Celeb Buys a Castle last night was pretty fun. Or stopping by someone’s cubicle and hearing their first-hand good news was such a refreshing break to the office day-to-day.

When you work from home, by yourself and for yourself, those casual, random moments do not exist. I can tell you sad stories of my desperate relationship with my postal carrier Dale. She was lovely and super friendly, but the fact that she was one of the few adults that I would see during my workday was a tad depressing. So I leaned hard on social media for my “tiny kitchen” moments.


Twitter can be a great source for entertainment — both high and way, way low brow — and information. You can find yourself swept up a sea of links and carried away on tangents and then thrown down the rabbit hole on anything from what you need to know about Syria to  a video of twerking gone horribly, horribly, wrong. It’s all there.

But then there’s the moment you realize that you are maybe, slightly, kind of hooked on all of it. All the links and the RTs and the twitpics and the memes and the pings and the dings. Plus there’s the added part about you tracking your runs and the number of daily steps and your water and food intake, and before you realize it, you’re checking your smart phone a mere 15 seconds after you just put it down from checking it earlier. It’s kind of a wee addiction, isn’t it?

And when I say “you” are addicted to your phone, I do mean you. Not me.

Anyway …

Earlier in the summer during my much-needed social media hiatus (for reasons, OK?), I came across something written by Randi Zuckerberg on her new lifestyle site, Dot Complicated, that I thought might help you (Not me.) with your phone problem. Consider it a friendly tap on the shoulder, from me to you.

So why don’t you step inside this circle of trust and have a seat here under the cheerful THIS IS AN INTERVENTION banner I made for you. Here you go, friend:


Admit it: As soon as you get up from your computer, the first thing you do when sitting back down is check your email. Just like the first thing you do when you get up in the morning (and sometimes even while you’re still in bed) is check your phone. Notifications rule our lives.

For me, there were a few signs that I needed to get a handle on my smartphone addiction. Signs like: 

  • My phone started loading slower from having too many apps running and continual notifications popping up.
  • When asked to print a photo for my son’s preschool class, I couldn’t find a single picture of him I hadn’t taken on my phone (and could easily print). 
  • When I almost left home without my wallet (and driver’s license!) because I knew I could rely on my phone for all my payments and transactions.
  • When quality time with my husband started to mean sitting side by side on our devices.
  • When I attended a wedding where everyone spent so much sharing the festivities online that it was hard to hold a face-to-face conversation.

In one of my favorite psychology courses at Harvard, we learned about something called a Skinner Box. A Skinner Box is a type of chamber that allows you to study the behavior of a small animal. In one experiment with the Skinner Box, we looked at the effects of giving small animals a reward at a random time versus a predictable time. When mice could predictably press a lever and out came food, they quickly learned only to press the lever when hungry.

But something interesting happened with the other group when the reward was randomly given. Those mice would literally keep pressing the lever until they died. When the scientists studied the brains of these mice, they found that during the random occurrences of getting a “surprise reward,” dopamine levels in the brain would rise – almost like doing a hit of drugs – and thus, the mice were actually growing addicted to pressing the lever in hopes of a hit.

And really, aren’t our mobile phones the same sort of thing? We don’t know when we’re going to get a new text message, a new email, a new Retweet, or a new Facebook message. These little bursts of communication are our own little form of “random rewards,” and we’re growing addicted to continually looking at it at all times. 
Here are some tips for regaining control over your smartphone: 

  • Get the phone out of the bedroom and family room! Send your last email of the night and leave your phone in your office or on your kitchen table. Unwind from the day with a book, movie or your significant other. If you have to have it in your living space, at least place it on a dresser where you can’t mindlessly reach it from the bed or couch.
  • Think twice before you share. Thinking twice saves your followers from a constant stream of pointless posts, and saves you from notifications every time someone likes or retweets. Posting a little less often gives you an attractive air of mystery, too.
  • Keep your devices on silent after work hours. When you are home making dinner and relaxing, you don’t need to be buzzed at every time anything happens on your phone. By keeping it on silent, you might even pleasantly forget it’s there.
  • Don’t check it when you’re with other people. If you are in the same room having a conversation with any other human being, refrain from checking your phone. The text can wait. The updates can wait. It’s pretty hard to feel valued when the person you are conversing with has their nose in their phone.
  • Use your phone as a tool, not entertainment. When walking from place to place, watching TV, waiting for the bill to come, commuting in the morning, try and hold on mindlessly checking your social media on your phone because you’re bored. Enjoy being in the world, and look around to see what’s going on!

This article originally appeared on Dot Complicated, a modern lifestyle community by Randi Zuckerberg.

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