Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 May

Why We’re Missing Out on Real Life (plus a Primal Health Challenge)

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve identified two deficits in our modern lives – the lack of sprinting and the lack of walking – and proposed a series of corresponding challenges to address (and hopefully fill) those deficits. Judging from the responses, I think these articles were  successful. Today, I’m trying my hand at highlighting another problem, this time one that has nothing to do with physical fitness. In fact, it deals with perhaps the most physically inactive activity you’ll ever do: staring at a smartphone as the world gets on around you. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-technology (duh), or even anti-smartphone (got one myself). I have the accumulated knowledge of the world in my pocket, and that’s pretty darn useful. I can find out where to get the best Greek food within five miles. I can bank, I can order flights to far off lands, I can check traffic, I can check shopping lists, read email, text, tweet, friend, defriend, like, oh, and make phone calls – all from the comfort of my 3.5 inch touch screen. That’s incredible. It also makes it really, really easy to get too comfortable and avoid actually experiencing the real, physical world.

I mean, when you stop and step outside of yourself for a second, and you think about the level of technology we can access, it starts feeling like we’re in the future. Of course, the future will never actually feel like “The Future” because we’ll have caught up to it and gotten used to it, but if a Connecticut Yankee appeared in our midst from the 19th (or even late 20th) century, he’d be blown away. It’s awesome and empowering and all those great things, but is there a dark side to it, too?

Our relationship with technology is not quite as dire as a Philip K. Dick novel, with programmable moods and emotions replacing real ones and electric pets replacing organic ones. It’s also not quite like the Jetsons, where flying cars, robot maids, moving sidewalks, auto-cooking kitchens, and other advanced tech enhanced human engagement with the world and its inhabitants. Ours lies somewhere in between. We’re getting along, it’s not a dystopia, but I think there are some very real problems that need to be acknowledged. Namely, smartphones, social media, and the Internet in general has changed the way we experience the world. For many, it has replaced engagement with the real physical world almost entirely. And that’s bad. We’re really missing out.

Okay, how about some stats? Let’s see what we’re dealing with.

In Britain, 81% of smartphone users have it on all day, every day. Almost half of smartphone users, upon being woken up by a phone call or text or misplaced alarm at night, end up using the phone instead of shutting it off and going back to sleep. Over half of adults and two-thirds of teens regularly use their phones while socializing with others in person (there’s nothing like a tableful of people staring at their phones in unison, is there?). About a quarter of adults use their phone during dinner. A third of teens can say the same. 47% of teens use their phones on the toilet, while just over a fifth of adults do the same (don’t they know the bathroom is for thumbing through the wife’s Cosmo?).

In the US, 59% of teens admit that they go online too much, 58% say they use smartphones way too much, and 48% use Facebook (and other social media sites). Of course, they admit it, but they don’t do anything about it. But hey, at least they’re watching less TV!

Internet Addiction Disorder is now a real thing, gaining acceptance as a legitimate clinical disorder and characterized by the classic trappings of a substance addiction. A series of studies out of China have found large structural differences between the brains of Internet addicts and controls, including impairments in white matter fibers involved in emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control (PDF). I’m not saying we’re all full-blown Internet addicts, but there’s a spectrum, and I think a lot of people are hurtling along it.

Near as I can tell, this is a real problem. A recent study even found that people who stopped checking their email for a week were more productive and experienced less stress (as indicated by the heart rate monitors attached to them for the duration of the experiment) than the folks who maintained their email habits. Those who checked emails switched windows an average of 37 times per hour, while the email abstainers switched windows just 18 times per hour. More than objective effects on productivity and stress, though, I just find it really sad to see people miss out on life because they “had” to check their phone. It’s sad seeing strollers full of wide-eyed babies who are absolutely amazed at everything they’re seeing – that bushy squirrel tail flashing across the powerline overhead, the cat sunning itself on the sidewalk, a garbage can left out from garbage day, a bush, a cloud, a man on a recumbent bike, a leaf fluttering down from treetops  – pushed by moms and dads with their eyes glued to their 3.5 inch screens, totally oblivious to the sensory explosions going on in their offspring but completely up-to-date on whether or not someone “liked” their most recent status update. “Ooh, red notification!” At least take a photo of the kid or something, sheesh.

Okay, time to fess up.

In the past week, what’s the longest you’ve gone without checking your smartphone, surfing the web, or checking Facebook, Twitter, or your email? Just give a ballpark figure. You don’t need to be exact. Sleep doesn’t count (nice try). Waking hours only.

In other words…

How many hours have you made it phone-and-email free before being pulled back to the alluring blue glare?

View Results

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How’d you do? I didn’t do that great, actually – I’m in the four to six range.

So here’s your challenge for the week: don’t use your phone or check your email after 7 PM for the next seven days. Extenuating circumstances? Sure, fine. Don’t lose your job over this or anything like that, but do your best to avoid those frivolous mindless thoughtless check-ins “just because.”

This may sound easy. 7 PM? Psh. Assuming you go to bed around 10, 10:30, 11 PM, that’s just a few hours of downtime. You can do that. Right? I was originally going to make it a bit more hardcore, but I think this is easy enough that everyone can hit it if they try, and dramatic enough that you’ll see and feel a real difference.

We’ll see. If it was so easy, if real life was so preferable to a smartphone, you’d already be doing it on your own. Don’t disappoint me!

One more thing: don’t just turn off the phone and close the laptop and turn on the TV. No, do something. Go out dancing. Light some candles and have a game night. Go for a walk. Go for a night hike. Take a short vacation (and leave the phone altogether). Engage with the physical world and its inhabitants, face to face. And let this engagement with the world carry over to the rest of your time, your “connected” time. Smartphone usage and being present are not mutually exclusive, believe it or not.

Please, whatever you do, keep that phone off, in your pocket, or back at home when you go on a walk with your kid. Don’t shuffle along, oblivious to the world around you, eyes and attention trained on that screen.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now it’s your turn. Get out there and stop missing out on real life!

Oh, and tell me how that sprint challenge from last week went. Did you get it done? Leave a comment!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. For me, this is very timely. I have just, in the last few days, recruited my husband and daughter (5 years old) to adopt a more primal lifestyle, focusing mostly on changing eating habits. But, I am also working hard to re-introduce some limits with my daughter that we had when she was younger, and about which I have become a little lax, specifically about the amount of “screen time” she gets on a daily basis. I actually made her go an ENTIRE Sunday without even turning the t.v. on! (I know, mom of the year goes right out the window!) Oh, the peace was amazing that day. I have quit turning on music in my office, and love the quiet. I will happily accept your challenge to lessen our techno time for the evenings!

    Cathy wrote on May 15th, 2012
  2. Neither my husband or I have smart phones but we have 5 online stores so the internet is super important to us. That said, we do take a “no computer” day once in a while but we can’t be off line for long as we need to reply to our customers and since most of our customers are in Europe and North America and we are in Japan….there isn’t really a “down time” for us. In fact it is 2:15 am here in Japan and I’m online!

    sofia wrote on May 15th, 2012
  3. As a techno-geek, the longest I ever go without checking an electronic device is 2 hours. Pretty sad! I did the sprint challenge last week, pacing off 50 meters at the park. I did 10X50m, all-out-max-effort sprints and came home way more tired than my usual 6.5mph 2.5 mile run. I was surprised that my shoulders and elbows were sore and my hammies were super-tight the next day. Great workout!

    Rick wrote on May 15th, 2012
  4. Last summer, I spent 10 days backpacking through the Philmont scout ranch with a bunch of teenage Boy Scouts. By and large, they talked about video games and tried to get to the next campsite as soon as possible, ignoring a goodly portion of the beautiful New Mexico mountains. I found it sad that even experienced scouts had problems realizing that the journey is the experience, not the end. I “slowed them down” more than once with my incessant photography ;).

    Damien Gray wrote on May 15th, 2012
  5. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C. Clarke

    Wild Bill wrote on May 15th, 2012
  6. Here’s something else to think about: the following of you by Big Brother and Big Marketing. The only way to guarantee you aren’t being cyber-followed via GPS by either entity is to remove the batteries from your phone…and guess what? You can’t do that with a smart phone!

    When Steve-o sold you that phone, he may as well have sold you a tracking device ANYBODY can use to know your whereabouts at any given time. Yeah, you have the world in your pocket–that means NO PRIVACY for you!

    You know how Britain’s covered in cameras and the cops know your every move? Well, we’ve got the same thing, only the cameras aren’t mounted on poles, readily visible by the public.

    Do what I do: regain a little of your privacy and freedom by leaving the phone at home. Do you REALLY need to have access to the world 24-7 when you should be focused on doing something else?

    That way, Big Brother knows where my PHONE is and not me personally. Since I have an older model phone, with no internet access or texting, marketers can’t get to me (yet).

    Just because we CAN take them with us doesn’t always mean we SHOULD. In emergencies, what did we used to do before we had cell phones? What did we do before we had OnStar?

    We were more careful then, that’s for sure, because we weren’t distracted by texting, tweeting, or whatever behind the wheel!

    Wenchypoo wrote on May 15th, 2012
    • Actually I can remove my battery. Not every smartphone is made by Apple

      Andrew wrote on May 17th, 2012
  7. I appreciate that this site is so much more than what we stick in our mouths. Thanks Mark!

    eatsleepswim wrote on May 15th, 2012
  8. I didn’t get a smartphone either, but I do love my iTouch. But lately I mostly use it to… read books on my Kindle app.

    I guess that doesn’t count since I’m not on the Internet? :)

    WereBear wrote on May 15th, 2012
  9. Went on cruise and did not take phone. No contact with anyone for 7 days. Heaven!

    Madmav wrote on May 15th, 2012
  10. LOVE this!! I am extremely guilty of smartphoneitis. In fact, I voted in the 0-2 hour range (shudder). I am totally going to do this! Thanks for the reminder.

    Kristen wrote on May 15th, 2012
  11. Great timing for me with this challenge. I just gave up facebook yesterday because I was getting too involved and annoyed. Then I thought, why keep myself in that situation? I gave up Facebook for Lent and made it almost the whole 47 days. I should’ve stayed away, but it was so easy to get sucked back in.
    I am going to really try to put away the smart phone after 7 pm. I am glued to it and I am one of those people who is woken up by it in the middle of the night and I check that text or email instead of going back to sleep.
    I’d love to see a follow up next week on how people did with it!

    Amy wrote on May 15th, 2012
  12. I went to Jazz Fest in NOLA two weekends ago. I accidentally left my laptop in hte airport (with the TSA) so I couldn’t check FB or email all weekend. No prob. When I came back thru the airport and got the laptop back, I found I was less entranced. I don’t have a smart phone; just a dumb phone from walmart, which I rarely use. I have been unsubbing from a lot of emails, so I have fewer to delete every day. Same with blogs.

    shannon wrote on May 15th, 2012
  13. When I am fortunate enough to misplace my phone or forget to charge it, I cherish the moments of almost seclusion. Obviously I’m not really secluded, as life still surrounds me, but I feel disconnected from the rest of the world. While this feeling may grow into anxiety after a longer time, it is truly enjoyable to simply focus on what is immediately surrounding me in those moments.

    Josh wrote on May 15th, 2012
  14. I am a technology challenged 54 year old. I don’t have a cell phone, and never have.If I borrow someone’s to make a call, I have to ask them how to work it. The reason I don’t get one is I KNOW I will become addicted to it.
    Geeze, the internet and email are distraction enough for me!
    I run trails, which allows me to experience the real world.
    I get a kick out of seeing people in restaurants, at parties etc. and half of them are glued to their phones. We took pictures at a recent family reunion, and one of us(my nephew) is looking at his iPhone in EVERY picture!
    I actually remember when Blackberries first came into my world. We were at a swanky 50th birthday party six or seven years ago and one of the husbands was in a booth by himself in a dark corner of a restaurant, eying his Blackberry.
    People thought there must be a family emergency or a crisis at work!

    Digger wrote on May 15th, 2012
  15. Our relationship with technology is more like a William Gibson novel. (Ever read Neuromancer?)

    dragonmamma wrote on May 15th, 2012
  16. I’m going to challenge my 13 year old to this one. I think she’s getting texts way too late at night.

    I will say that having my smartphone at Disney World was a huge timesaver. I could check ride wait times or see when a ride was down. It saved us a lot of wasted time and money.

    wendy wrote on May 15th, 2012
  17. Excellent article! Internet Addiction is very real and a quiet killer that is beginning at a younger and younger age. Of course, even despite knowing this, I struggle breaking away from my Blackberry as well.

    Liberty Springs is the first residential treatment center for youth in the US that focuses on recovery from Internet Addiction Disorder. It opens soon and will be taking residents in August. Take a peek:

    We’ll be incorporating a primal framework in many areas.

    Any thoughts?

    I appreciate all of the comments shared.

    Tyler Smith wrote on May 15th, 2012
  18. Hi Grokers– Actually I kill my phone every day about an hour before lunch and then go three days a week for a quick three mile walk and theotehr two days I sprint the hills. Usually 10 wind sprints with a short walk or jog in between. Then when I come back I don’t turn on the computer for personal use until after 2pm–
    BTW– I am soon to be 62. I sprint 2-3 times a week and I also box and lift a bit. Compared to the others in my workplace I am the oldest and also the most fit and active. The MDA has helped me drop from 186 to 169 on my way to 160 by my birthday on July 12th. Thanks!!!! for the motivation, the success storiesm and the great information!

    Pastor Dave wrote on May 15th, 2012
  19. Ooooh, 7pm. I already shut off all technology at 9pm (10pm being the typical bedtime), so it’ll be interesting to see if I can pull of two hours earlier. Count me in, for sure.

    Granted, I don’t have a smart phone and my Kindle has had battery issues for a couple weeks now, so it’s probably a little easier for me to pull this off than others. I have been wasting more time than usual in front of my laptop, though, so maybe this is a sign to get back on track.

    L.S. Engler wrote on May 15th, 2012
    • Just a side note for you and your Kindle. I had battery issues with my kindle 2 this week and opened up a chat/called them to see what can be done, and they offered to replace it (with the current model). I couldn’t believe it since it was quite a bit out of warranty. Just an FYI if you can’t get it working

      Andrew wrote on May 17th, 2012
  20. Mark, something that I think would be really helpful is a way to connect your followers. I personally do not know anyone that is primal. I would love to be able to put my zip code into a spot on your website and have a list generated that could connect me with other primal followers in my area. Maybe it could have some basic information about the person such as name, age, how long they’ve been primal, what they might struggle with, contact info, etc. Or maybe we even have an assigned email address, i.e., or something like that to communicate. Just by using that email address, we’d be spreading the word to hundreds of people daily by potentially peaking their interest b/c they want to know what “marksdailyapple” means. Being able to find others that are primal would not only help me, but I think it would make us all stronger in a sense, and once we have a “group” we could meet monthly for support and generate ideas on how to spread the word!

    Amy wrote on May 15th, 2012
    • Check out I think there might be some groups on there.

      spayne wrote on May 16th, 2012
  21. I’m proud to say I don’t (yet?) own a smartphone 😀

    Mauricio wrote on May 15th, 2012
  22. I sprinted up a hill X 6 with rest in between. I also completed the previous slow movement challenge, and kept it up for the next week too.

    Does the computer count in this challenge? I tend to have it on in the evening and am constantly keeping tabs open that tell me if I have a new message in multiple websites. I think I should take this challenge on, and maybe I can finish my sewing project that I have on the go.

    Keep the challenges coming.

    mommymd wrote on May 15th, 2012
  23. Best challenge yet!! I need this so badly. Not sure it will happen tonight due to some deadlines, but definitely the rest of the week!!

    Alyssa wrote on May 15th, 2012
  24. I almost clicked on 2-4, thinking that you meant minutes…when I saw that you meant hours, I realized I had a problem.

    Chase wrote on May 15th, 2012
    • My initial reaction was to retweet this. I think I also have a problem.

      Josh wrote on May 15th, 2012
  25. Got a few hour walks in last week but the computer/ phone thing is something I admittedly need to work hard at. I just got an iphone so the allure of it has not quite settled. And being a blogger and photographer, well a lot of time is inevitably spent on the computer. I’m going to give this challenge a go though!

    katie wrote on May 15th, 2012
  26. Someone told me, “You’re hard to get a hold of.”

    I wanted to say, “Then, please quit trying to get a hold of me.”

    I am only too grateful to lose my Smartphone for the weekend and in the evenings.

    Miki wrote on May 15th, 2012
    • I still remember the good old days, when if someone couldn’t get ahold of you, they left a message.

      And at the risk of dating myself, the good even older days when they couldn’t leave a message and had to call you back, if it was that important….

      Tom Higgins wrote on May 15th, 2012
      • +1!

        And most of the time they didn’t call back as it wasn’t that important.

        PrimalGrandma wrote on May 15th, 2012
  27. I am so happy to read today’s post. I have a 2.5 year old and I cannot believe the number of parents who are reading/typing away on their phones while their kids are playing on the equipment.

    I have actually had two different moms (at different times) comment to me how nice it is that I play with my daughter. I find it incredible that more people don’t–it helps me to connect with her, and I find it relaxing and enjoyable!

    I also don’t pick up my cell phone after I get home from work–from 6pm until about 8am the next morning (so yes, including sleep time), I am unreachable via email/Facebook/other internet. If my friends want to reach me, they know I have a home phone and they can call me there.

    I feel rather old-fashioned for being like this, but at the same time, I need time to be AWAY from the computer and the internet (given that I’m a worker bee form 9am to 5pm). And, Real Life is just more interesting and fun!

    Defrog wrote on May 15th, 2012
    • When my son was younger, we used to play “Monster” at the playground–I would chase him all over the equipment trying to catch him. Often other kids would join in and I would chase them all–while the other parents sat on the sidelines. I’ve never understood this. Everyone should play.

      Nicky wrote on May 15th, 2012
  28. If it wasn’t for our addiction to technology Mark, you wouldn’t make as much money.

    Melissa wrote on May 15th, 2012
    • I don’t really think that is a fair thing to say. He admitted that he is using technology but I think he is honest in his suggestions to help us improve our lives.

      spayne wrote on May 16th, 2012
  29. I definitely think that the iPhone/iPad app needs to be expanded upon, updated, and improved. A lot can be done with it, it can even be made to be practical tool. You could make a free version and a version that costs a few bucks that offers the special features — I’d pay it.

    It would also be good to see greater commission incentive and structure for affiliates of Primal Nutrition. 😉

    Scott Lee wrote on May 15th, 2012
  30. The one that makes me positively (I mean it) sick are parents glued to their smartphone screens at church events while their little ones cling to their sides watching without parental involvement.

    Kathryn Arnold wrote on May 15th, 2012
  31. Here in the Bay Area everyone plays Phone Stack – when you go out with friends you all stack your phones in the center of the table and try to ignore them. The person who reaches for their phone or takes a call has to pay for all the drinks!

    moreporkplease wrote on May 15th, 2012
  32. Usually I take part of the weekend off away from social media and the internets. I understand that some people feel the need to be rude with cell phones. But if I’m at the table eating with family the phone doesn’t get answered. I feel if it’s important, they can leave a message. I will admit all of the information at my finger tips is addicting, but it can be overwhelming too. My bf and I usually do board game night or something similar on the weekends. There really does have to be a balance.

    Holly J. wrote on May 15th, 2012
  33. set out to do 10 short uphill sprints this morning, but bailed out on #5 w a slight muscle pull in left calf

    SteveO wrote on May 15th, 2012
  34. OK OK, going to begin this, tonight!

    Mike wrote on May 15th, 2012
  35. Here’s a guy who has attached his i-Pod to his arm via magnetic studs implanted in his arm. Would that be (h)arm-less???

    Sandra from NZ wrote on May 15th, 2012
  36. Yep, I’m right there at the 4-6 range, too…the ‘net is my coffee break, ’cause I work at home. On, siiiigh, the computer, a lot. I teach online. I run lists. I market. I sell on eBay. And then for fun I check my email or browse. Sorry state of affairs, sometimes!

    But I DID build a little shed/studio 2 years ago, with no phone, no computer, no TV, just art supplies and books and music and nature all around–and friends, on occasion.

    I’d been trying to get away from the machine by 8 pm, so I’ll take your challenge and gladly!

    Cathy Johnson (Kate) wrote on May 15th, 2012
  37. I wish I could… but as a freelance designer who is self employed, the tradeoff for being able to schedule my own time is to be always reachable no matter where I am. Dinner, errands, no matter what. Lots of last second work and quick turnarounds all the time. I was actually grateful for the smartphone so I could leave my home office during business hours and not worry about missing important emails. Compared to my previous life of 14 hour days as an in house full time designer, I’ll take the technology addiction in order to have time to get out, see the sun, exercise, make spontaneous plans, ride a bike, sleep in, etc. if I want a real vacation, I’ll go somewhere with no phone service… like the ocean.

    Michelle wrote on May 15th, 2012
  38. Great take on this. I feel the same:

    Beau DeCourcy wrote on May 15th, 2012
  39. one of many great things about observing Jewish Sabbath is: 25 HOURS of NO TV, NO PHONE, NO COMPUTER!!
    we play board games, legos, we SING, TALK face to face with friends!! every single week….and lately, I have not been turning on my computer Saturday night,since I dont want the “blue light” to mess with my sleep. next weekend is a 2-day Holiday following Sabbath – 3 full days free of technology. awesome! but I’m going to try to turn-it-off at 7 during the week,
    and see how I do!

    HopelessDreamer wrote on May 15th, 2012
  40. Ha. I got Internet-addicted *because* I was missing out on real life. Joining the Army at 18, marrying at 21, and having a kid at 22 kind of sheltered me from the fact that my family was crazy and that people I’d thought were my friends didn’t really deserve the title. (I was kind of a mess in high school.) Having my marriage end suddenly when I was on the brink of 25 left me alone and unanchored. At least on the Internet I could find like-minded people who wanted to have conversations with me.

    I’m going in the other direction now, realizing that it’s kind of tough to form personal connections if I’m on the Internet all day long (well, except when I’m taking care of personal commitments with family and around the house). Then again, I’m afraid that if I go looking for friends, all I’ll find are “clubs and activities” for people who share one interest among themselves. That is SO BORING, and seems to be replicating what I’m finding online. No one seems to want to be an actual friend anymore, they’re so used to living in echo chambers.

    So I see the merit in cultivating a more offline life. In theory. But I’m afraid the theory won’t match up with the reality.

    Dana wrote on May 15th, 2012

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