October 19, 2018

Look Up and Look Out: Solving Our Digital Addiction Epidemic

It’s a conversation I’ve been having with loved ones a lot lately — the addiction to phones and technology. Sure, technology was created with the idea of connecting people, but in many ways, we have become much more disconnected from one another.

I admit, I need a #digitalintervention from my #screenaddiction. I hate the idea of being addicted to anything, whether it be food, shopping or other vices. To be honest, I have been really beating myself up over being on my phone more than I should.

Having been in the TV industry for more than 22 years, I’m shocked by very few things these days. But a recent episode of Lisa Ling’s CNN show “This is Life,” which focused on the problem of screen addiction, got me woke.
This broadcast shook me harder than any “Black Mirror” episode and resonated deeply within me. Lisa took us on an in-depth journey to victims’ homes, a rehab facility and Silicon Valley to show us just how crazy obsessed we’ve become with technology, and its terrifying consequences.

A mother grieved her daughter’s suicide, attributing the death to online abuse. A man was addicted to video games, and his father was an exec at the company that created the very technology his son was hooked on.
Candid interviews opened my eyes to the dark side of the internet and social media. I saw how people are creating hidden accounts to post their inner demons, cutting experiences or suicide plans, to a select few. Another segment showed Lisa in a lab experiment that, to her surprise, measured extremely high stress levels when she was told to ignore her phone notifications while playing a simple computer game.

I’m mad at myself for getting to the point where I’m: 1.) checking my phone way too often, 2.) aimlessly wasting hours scrolling through social media and 3.) aware I’m spending too much time on the phone, but doing it anyway like a zombie.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pedestrians nearly get run over because they’re on their phones, not paying attention to cars. I’ve gotten mad at family members for being glued to their phones the whole time during long car rides or at the beach while on vacation. I’ve witnessed kids grow up without learning how to have a good conversation and connect to others in real time. IT’S AN EPIDEMIC FOLKS! Ultimately, this episode made me sad and mad at myself for not doing more to wean myself off my phone.

Screen addiction resources from CNN’s “This is Life.”

The next day, I found myself telling everyone I could about this episode. It’s as if I had died, crossed over, saw the truth about how technology is ruining us and come back to life to alert people to the dangers of screen addiction. I’ve told people at the gym, baristas, my cohort and friends whom I’ve spoken to on the phone. I even went on a Google Hangout with my family and shared this episode.

I also have been thinking about specific ways I can use my phone less, starting with checking social media only briefly in the morning, afternoon and night — instead of every second I’m bored. I’m no longer looking at posts when stopped in my car and I’m going to leave my phone in my room before eating dinner, unless I’m on a deadline or under extenuating circumstances, like expecting a call or message from a visitor.

I even devote a special “Digital Detox” segment on “YOLO With TOLO,” my weekly talk show that I co-host with my soul brother Lonnell Williams, a self-proclaimed phone addict. This is the only 30 minutes of the week I’m on my phone that I am proud of and fully present, because we are sharing and crowdsourcing wisdom with our audience.

I like to think of myself as a mindful person who reveres being in the present moment, but I’ve realized I have a long way to go. Tech companies like Facebook, Instagram and Apple have recently addressed the problem by implementing ways to measure how much time we are spending on our devices — but ultimately, we have to take responsibility for how we’re connecting to technology and the people around us.

Let’s be real, I know I’m not good at dieting, so I’ll make adjustments and not beat myself up if I slip up from time to time. I’m taking baby steps and paying attention to how I’m feeling as I strive to keep off my phone. I’m more aware of my surroundings, like trees and Halloween decorations on homes while walking to my car, instead of staring at my phone. Most importantly, I am focusing on the world around me.

Thank you, Lisa, for helping me and this generation stay woke in a time when we spend more time with our phones than connecting with people who matter most.

How are you digitally detoxing? I want to know. Please share your wisdom below.

Onward,
Toan

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