6.55am: Wake up, snooze alarm, drift back asleep while scrolling Twitter. Wake again, turn off alarm. Lie in bed staring at nothing. After a while, unlock phone, scroll left and right a few times, lock it again. Get up.
There’s a lot of worrying behaviour going on here, not least the staring, but in fear of losing your attention, let’s dive right in and attack the issue at the crux of it all, ‘the smartphone tic.’
A smartphone tic, as it’s called among we device therapists, is the spasmodic and often grotesque convulsion of reaching for your phone for no reason other than doing it. Like a physical tic, the smartphone tic starts as a harmless source of amusement for your partner, and quickly turns into an involuntary and habitual behaviour that occurs at the onset of every uncomfortable feeling or situation such as grief, anxiety, waiting for the bus, and dealing with family members. Indulging in the behaviour leads to a release of tension and relief, like scratching an itch or checking you haven’t locked the cat in the washing machine.
Needless to say, a smartphone tic is irrational and downright counterintuitive behaviour, like smoking tobacco to reduce stress. And just like tobacco, it all stems from that initial decision to indulge the habit and have a good long toke. Treating it, therefore, is all about separating the urge from the action and finding something else to do — like actually waiting for the bus when you’re waiting for the bus or talking to your friend when you’re talking to them — other than rechecking your freaking emails.
3:00pm: On the loo, (number one), but got lost in foodporn on Instagram while looking for a recipe for the weekend. No idea how long I’ve been here, but the next video looks like it will be the one.
Here we have a classic case of binge-scrolling: the information equivalent of what you do every night with calories and TV series. However, unlike your five a day Games of Thrones habit and explicitly declared ‘love’ of digestive biscuits, there’s a lot more to why binge-scrolling occurs than just a mere impatience or greed.
Social media is the major culprit here; the so-called ‘free-to-use’ networking platforms are specially designed to consume as much of your attention — and in turn, your personal data — as possible. Like a slot or fruit machine — although these self-declared gambling devices only honestly take your money — social media bombards you with stimuli, provides a little win every so often, and keeps you gagging for that one big payout that just never seems to come.
Like an obese person in Wallmart or a rabid gambler in Las Vegas, the best way to manage binge-scrolling is to simply stay well away from social media.
10:55pm: Should get some sleep, but keep finding interesting articles I need to read. Opened twelve or so new tabs for later. Better also just go through and organise my to-do list, shopping list, exercise plan, Christmas list, and collection of random thoughts in Evernote one more time.
Last but not least, we have the often cleverly-disguised affliction of digital hoarding. Digital hoarding is a contemporary type of hoarding that, like filling your back bedroom full of old paperwork or piling your front garden high with mattresses and shopping trolleys, is traditionally considered a form of OCD. In this day and age, though, rather than hoarding physical objects, we instead tend to bookmark websites and articles, collect browser tabs, stockpile emails, and accumulate lifeless, two-dimensional digital representations of the things we see and moments we experience every day.
Like jamming your hand in your pocket and caressing your fingers over your smart device, digital hoarding relives anxiety and also produces it. The more data you accumulate, the more you feel insulated from the worlds and its challenges — i.e. saving old documents as to not feel unprepared or worry about forgetting something. But the more you feel insulated from the world and its challenges, inevitably the more you feel anxious and out of control — i.e. no amount of beautifully categorised documents or subfolders can save you in the real world.
As our smartphones are just a few inches wide but several hundred miles deep, digital hoarding can quickly spiral out of control. So next time you feel you need to make a note of feeding the cat to remember it, take a photo of a quirky coffee shop sign to show your partner, or keep a business email because it was a nice exchange, just think: mattresses and shopping trolleys.
See you same time next week.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Follow him on LinkedIn or Medium for more articles like this one.