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. Now that my comment is at the verrry end I’m not sure if anyone is going to read this but…

    After the baby was born, in an effort to save money we got rid of the smart phones and got phones that just dialed. No texts, no internet. We also got rid of cable since both of us work full-time and went to bed at 7:30 because we were so exhausted. Besides, we didn’t have time to watch tv so why spend the extra $80/month?

    Getting rid of the phones and cable was so liberating! We ate dinner at the table every night, actually TALKED and had great intellectual conversations. (Second) best thing that has ever happened to us and our relationship.

    We’ve now since diverted to our old ways and it sucks.

    Jenn wrote on May 15th, 2012
  2. Whether it’s a tiny computer screen or a large one, my job (when I am working) involves long hours with a computer. Over the last 20 years the accumulated stress/micro-trauma has taken a toll on my eyeballs, neck, and right wrist.
    My escape is travelling to Thailand for extended training camps. That is why I work as a temp, as soon as the work is over, I get as far away from work as possible. My goal is to reverse the active/sedentary ratio of my previous life, before I embraced fitness as a lifestyle. Eventually, the ultimate goal is to reduce my daily computer hours to a bare minimum say 1 or 2 hours per day. I want to now become a fitness trainer.

    Bill Berry wrote on May 15th, 2012
  3. i love this “no technology after 7” rule. i try to do this from time to time on my own, when i feel like i am too desk-bound…too addicted to fb. i need to be mindful enough to make it more of a permanent rule….

    Karen wrote on May 15th, 2012
  4. I have a cabin up north that is pretty remote: propane lights/fridge/stove, pump water from a natural spring, no electricity, and no cell service. It’s great to get up there a few times a year and trully unplug!!

    Mike P wrote on May 15th, 2012
  5. Most my time not-connected is on weekends when I have other things to be doing. Sometimes I’ll go almost the entire weekend without checking in. But during the week I don’t disconnect for maybe but an hour to watch TV/workout/ go for a walk/drive.

    activia wrote on May 15th, 2012
  6. Guilty of waking up and having a cheeky surf of the web before falling back asleep. Not good!
    Was just contemplating this with a friend the other day; the idea that we’re all living somewhere in the electronic ether as opposed to grounded, in our bodies. Mindfulness and engagement with the here and now has never been more crucial!

    Catie wrote on May 15th, 2012
  7. I just finished reading this article, it’s 6:55pm, and I’ve decided to sign-off for the evening.

    keithmo wrote on May 15th, 2012
  8. because of my job – this is basically never going to happen for me. I’m on call 24/7 in a various level of tiers all the time and I can’t turn my phone off. I DO limit it as much as I can – at the minimum go outside every hour.

    mike wootini wrote on May 15th, 2012
  9. I dont know you guys, but it was a wonderful experience when i tried the sprint challenge.

    At first, I wanted the Tabata way rightaway, until I pantz, weez as if im about to die… in the first 20 seconds.

    And so I followed Marks advise only in one terms: 8 sets, but I give myself a rest as much as i need. 5, 4, 2 minutes rest in between 20sec dash, I realized and deeply understood something in a week:

    – That smoke clouds my breathing lungs,
    – that running need not a running shoe (i run in a basketball court to have no excuses)
    – that I dont need an expensive clothing just to run. after all, I’ll sweat. and as sprint is a short exercise, why “dress to kill?” torn sleeve shirt and shorts barefoot, im on.
    – I dont need energy drinks. Im not in the NBA. I want to run . Hydrate with water. finish my 20sec. thats it
    – crazy but I feel, somewhat calm. I gotta sense of, somewhat inner pride for physical.
    -wanting more: i did this, what can I do next? push up? pull up one hand?
    – THE FIRST RUN IS THE HARDEST. but what helped me is the methapor of a Rocketship: at first it was fighting gravity, then smooth fly. I got smoke, junk in my system, I visualize that Im bit by bit shrugging it off.
    – I look cooler than the joggers in our vicinity. fast, explosive and brief kept them wondering “was that enough?” lookin at them was entertaining.
    – i found it VERY IDEAL for my hectic schedule. short, sweet, simple. but simple doesnt always count as easy.

    I think im hooked. thanks for this challenge

    Francisman wrote on May 15th, 2012
  10. I work full time in IT. But my teams knows you need me after hours call the land line. If I am at home my cell is on a shelf in the basement with my wallet and keys.

    SRMcEvoy wrote on May 15th, 2012
  11. I so agree with this article. I have no smartphone, just a little old flip phone that doesn’t get internet, BUT I do spend a lot of time at home on the computer. Just like right now!!!! Yes, after 7 is good. Thanks for the challenge, Mark!

    Norlynda Cook wrote on May 15th, 2012
  12. I have a smart phone, but have little patience for spending hours on it (just reading all of the comments is more than I can still for). I spend about 20 minutes per day checking up on this site and Facebook, glance at Twitter, then go walk the dog. I don’t carry my phone with me unless I’m expecting a call. In restaurants, I watch or talk to people.
    My dog wants a walk now, so ya’ll will have have to excuse me now.

    TruckerLady wrote on May 15th, 2012
  13. Except for the days when I go out training, sitting and playing the guitar does count as “do something”? Or it just represents another incarnation of the modern world distractions?

    voingiappone wrote on May 15th, 2012
  14. Oh- I love this challenge. Hard, but necessary I think.

    sqt wrote on May 15th, 2012
  15. Lovely, a post suited for me. I don’t own a smart phone or iPad or anything like that, but I have my laptop and being unemployed (in search for my first job), computer is my 8 hour daily occupation. Just surfing the net, watching what I like on Youtube, looking for job … Yeah, it’s brain-frying and I can feel it already. I don’t have problems switching my attention off the computer, when my boyfriend’s home and we play card games (:)), but it’s more to do with asking myself, what I want with my time and life.
    I guess my challenge for this week will be switching on computer after noon. I’m wondering, what I’ll find to do during first four hours … :)

    masage wrote on May 15th, 2012
  16. I do not have a smartphone. To people who tell me that I MUST HAVE ONE, I usually say that I do not need it, I myself am smart enough 😉 Ok, jokes apart, I usually turn off my “primal mobile” on Friday at 18h when I leave for the WE and turn it on Monday at 9h, when I’m back to work.

    primal_alex wrote on May 16th, 2012
  17. Oooh…. I don’t have more than an old-fashioned cell phone, but I *am* attached to my iPad.

    This after 7pm no technology is difficult to achieve… For one, I am part-time self-employed, so that’s how I spend many of my evenings. Even if not working, my iPad doubles as an ebook reader…

    Gotta mull that over.

    Gila wrote on May 16th, 2012
  18. I remember being at Disney world when I was a kid. It was when camcorders were just becoming affordable, and there were hundreds of dads seeing the world through the viewfinder. Last year, I went to a gig at the o2 in London, and a mum in front of me watched the whole thing on her iPhone screen as she recorded it. What was the point? Might as well have saved herself £30 and bought the DVD.

    Keith wrote on May 16th, 2012
  19. I have the flip phone from yrs ago..cheapest plan on minutes.. Friends and family roll their eyes when I tell them “my phone is mainly for emergency and stays in my car most of the time”. i have a land line phone where they can always get me if there’s a problem. I am in love with this iPad, tho :-) but I still manage to put it down at 8pm every night.

    Judy wrote on May 16th, 2012
  20. “Of course, the future will never actually feel like “The Future” because we’ll have caught up to it and gotten used to it,”

    Wow. Amazingly smart statement.

    Luke wrote on May 16th, 2012
  21. Mark,
    What is your view on books? I love to research and gather information (vs. reading fiction). I hardly spend any time on my smartphone, barely use aps, check my email once a day, never Facebook or twitter, send a minimum of text messages, watch tv just a few hours a week. But I will spend hours reading and taking notes, often sharing the new information with family and friends. At times, I’d rather read than take a walk or play. So do you think this is could be akin to smartphone and technology distraction?

    Becky wrote on May 16th, 2012
  22. I do think cell phones and computers can be a way of relaxing at the end of the day. However, last weekend we went camping and had no service on our phones. It was great. My husband couldn’t get pages from work, my teens couldn’t text with friends, and I couldn’t check Facebook. In fact, most of the time we didn’t even know what time it was. Three glorious days without internet to experience nature. Boy did I feel relaxed.

    I love this challenge. Thanks so much. Since I go to bed just a little earlier than 10:00, I am going to make my last time of checking the phone at 6:00pm. It would be great to hear back from folks next week and see how they did.

    Cathy wrote on May 16th, 2012
    Except the one in my jeans>>>

    Dave PAPA GROK Parsons wrote on May 16th, 2012
    • lol!

      HopelessDreamer wrote on May 16th, 2012
  24. I need this challenge!!!

    Emily wrote on May 16th, 2012
  25. I haven’t plunged into the smartphone arena yet, mostly horrified by the extra cost. But I do have an email/facebook problem. So I’m taking this challenge.

    I planted my garden this last weekend and had such a nice time just putzing around outside with my snoopy cat nearby. It was very relaxing and satisfying. I’m going to hit repeat on that while disconnecting from the tech in the evening.

    Thanks for the push Mark.

    musajen wrote on May 16th, 2012
  26. My company recently offered to upgrade everyone to smartphones. I initially agreed, but changed my mind and kept my old non-smart phone. There are times when it’s tempting to have that information available at my fingertips, but the blissful feeling of being truly unplugged is honestly more rewarding.
    And sprinting – I’ve been doing it just about every day at least once.

    Tim wrote on May 16th, 2012
  27. I must admit, I am probably on the computer too much (though I do not own a cellphone). However, I think that at least in my case (being a student), it is also a cultural shift. I am expected to type my papers now. I am expected to do research online. I am expected to use internet resources. There is a sort of trap that we have created for ourselves by becoming to dependent upon technology for everyday life. I’ve also noticed people sometimes refuse (literally, refuse) to interact with me except on social networking sights. To type and send an email is almost archaic and takes too much time. Everything must be available right now. Bar be it for someone to actually make a phone-call!

    Elizagrok wrote on May 16th, 2012
  28. I went to a talk by Robert Lustig about a month ago and he said something that really resonated with me. To paraphrase, “Computers and the Internet were supposed to make everything better… somehow. Instead, we’re now statistically more fat, more sedentary, more depressed, and we work MORE, not less.”

    My small resistance so far has been refusing to get a smart phone. With the money I save on the data plan, I travel.

    Dragan wrote on May 16th, 2012
  29. Challenge accepted! We have a rule in our house that our desktop computer and televisions are off by 8pm, but what good is that if we are then glued to our phones the rest of the evening? By the way I read this blog post on my phone. :).

    Gena wrote on May 16th, 2012
  30. I think its really rude to have a mobile on in a restaurant especially when the person your eating with is just browsing youtube.In Britain I think nearly everyone is addicted to their smartphone in some way, myself included. This challenge is going to be rough!

    Bellawebster wrote on May 16th, 2012
  31. I just submitted this comment from my smartphone…

    chux wrote on May 16th, 2012
  32. I don’t have this problem. My phone is a prepaid one and I use like $25 a year (yes a year). If I am on the car and need to call the wife I use the phone, same when I am on the supermarket and asking the wife if we have enough bacon.
    I realized that 95% of the time I have a phone by my side (8 hours a day at work and the rest at home). Also: many times when I do not have a phone handy, there is wifi and my android phone works nicely with it and with google voice I could call anybody and not use minutes. So that’s it.

    WildGrok wrote on May 16th, 2012
  33. I caved in a few weeks ago and got a smartphone (my beloved basic rugged phone gave up the ghost after six years). I’m a little alarmed by how much I use the thing- my texting and internet use has probably tripled in the past two weeks. Coupled with the fact that my job demands 24hr availability, I feel like I don’t have a chance to disconnect (escape?), ever.

    Kate wrote on May 16th, 2012
  34. Landline and a computer on the desk. Then I use something called “planning” to engage my friends.

    kapo wrote on May 16th, 2012
  35. A lot of my friends seem recently to have outsourced their exisitence to social media to the extent where they are planning future events mindful of how they will look retrospectively on Facebook. I am very uncomfortable with this disconnect from the present but also to some extent reality.

    I also see a lots of (not usually very) subtle ways people attmempt to use the medium as a self propaganda tool – I am successful, I am wealthy, I am a party animal etc – but it appears then to become a simulation of themselves, further driven by their desire to gain approval.

    They seem to exist purely through and for the prism of the media. But the social media becomes the reality.

    I think also that is why you often get called miserable for not partaking in social media – those type of facebook users not only want to further normalise their own behaviour but also you not using it means that you will have no access to their propoganda.

    Sorry if this sounds a bit dark, but my point is I persoanlly dont find it a spiritually uplifting way to spend time or interact.

    Loz wrote on May 17th, 2012
  36. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one, Mark. I’m not anti-technology (obviously using a computer and the Internet right now). However, one of the things we as a society are terrible at is questioning whether or not we should even use a technology. We usually just implement it, and then find out the negative effects later. I feel like this is what is happening with smartphones right now.

    I live on a college campus, and it saddens me to see people walking around like zombies, with absolutely no idea what is going on around them. They have no time to ponder questions as they walk, or look up at the sky and notice how beautiful it is, or be amused at a squirrel chewing a nut on the sidewalk. They just stare straight ahead, listening to some music blare on their headphones, or they’re staring at their smartphone, running in to people along the way.

    Smartphones may have their uses, especially for people who need to be constantly connected to their jobs. But I will never, ever, get a smartphone, because I don’t ever want to be one of those people who decides to check Facebook or email while eating dinner, rather than engage with the people around me.

    Adam wrote on May 17th, 2012
  37. I recently deactivated my Facebook account for about a month because I knew I was getting too much faux social interaction from it. Facebook isn’t a real connection with anyone; it’s like those pellets they reward monkeys with when they train them. Unsatisfying. Being with real people is infinitely better (except when they’ve got their phone out constantly. Am I really that boring?). That month I was off I felt great. I definitely had less stress. I got out more. I’m slipping back into it, but I really need to get away from it again. I do not regret getting it out of my life. I never needed it before I had it. Why would I need it now?

    I try to limit my smartphone use too. I lived for years without one. Why do I need to be entertained constantly with one? I have a brain. Louis CK’s bit in his ‘Hilarious’ show helped me rethink how I view my tech too.

    It’s impossible to live life in every breath with an electronic screen in front of you constantly. Technology is a tool. Would you carry a hammer around with you all the time including when you go to bed? I think we do ourselves a disservice when we get addicted to our devices. Like junk food, they’ll just leave you hungry for real food.

    Josh wrote on May 17th, 2012
  38. I’ve just had a tech-free week in the woods with my classmates so my answer would be somewhere around 168 hours :) Otherwise it’s probably around 4-6 hours at the most. If I get a smartphone, I will probaly die from constant wikipeding…

    Wroomy wrote on May 17th, 2012
  39. So far ive gone one day with no tech past 7pm and I found myself reading! I never read…This challenge is going to make me smart..ish!!

    Bellawebster wrote on May 18th, 2012

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