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. i’m a waiter. i watch children come in so imersed in their new ipads they will not respond to me when i ask for their order. the parents love it because it’s a great way to keep thier kids shut up so they don’t have to teach them actual manners. then they put down the technology long enough to shovel in some disgusting toxic food and coke, then back to the ipads. and then on their way out of the restaurant bump into me while i’m working because there not looking up from their game…. were all screwed.

    mike wrote on May 18th, 2012
  2. I really, really tried… and then failed. Living without the tech that I have come to rely on is a major challenge. I really want to cut down but I just don’t know how!

    JB wrote on May 18th, 2012
  3. Very cool post.

    Last week, through happenstance, in one 24 hour period, I was separated from my phone for the first 12 hours, and from my computer for the next 12 hours. It was BLISSFUL :-)

    Susan Alexander wrote on May 20th, 2012
  4. WOW, thank you SO much for this article, Mark. You know, I feared that I may have been privy to this addiction, but I chose to ignore it because I felt as if I was not wasting time, but gathering information. I had felt this way for the last couple years, and admittedly used to be a gaming addict prior. My gaming has gone down considerably — from 30+ hours a week on average, down to about 10-12 hours a week. I fear my addiction has transferred over to being a full blown power user. I’m not just using my smartphone and/or PC to gather information I find interesting, but finding things I may find applicable to my own life or can enhance it in some way or another, my social network feeds (several unfortunately — although I can proudly say FB is not on that list), rss feeds (I wouldn’t have read this without it), reddit, etc. The problem with this is I’m a young father of a son during his formidable years. I chose to ignore it, but subconsciously aware I would be glued a couple hours at work every single day, come home to check more and even, at times, check it in the morning before going to work. I’ve recently integrated the GTD into my lifestyle and what started to trigger in my mind that I may have a problem was, when finally putting my GTD strategy into effect in real life, the things I wanted to get done that day or that week or that month slowly started being pushed into the next month and I was slowly, but surely, not getting shit done. Thank you again, Mark. I will put down the internet… after this…. 1 more article…

    kw4k wrote on May 20th, 2012
  5. I AM an anti-tech guy and worry about being so “digitally distracted”.

    Don’t own a cell phone at all and refuse to buy one (not worth it).

    Check home e-mails ~twice a week unless expecting something (rare).

    Work e-mails, 3 times a day.

    Internet use: 4 sites for the news and 1 crossword puzzle = 1 hour/day.

    I believe you are right on the brain effects of being “digitally distracted”. For one it impedes focus when doing analytical work or computational code development.

    And I see so much of our youth totally engrossed by these high tech “toys”.

    Spend an extra hour per week reading your health articles (on Sunday).

    Oh shoot gotta run, my interval work-out is calling (grin).


    Iluvatar wrote on May 20th, 2012
  6. I am in college and am probably the only one there that doesn’t have a smartphone. It is nice to be able to walk around the campus and notice the scenery, feel the wind in my hair, the squirrels eating the campus garbage and running up and down trees, etc. I also like the fact that I can sit at a table where there is no computer and no phone buzzing every five minutes… meaning that I can actually finish my statics homework and understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I am still addicted to email and facebook. I have a computer in my room and can’t do my work there. So in that respect, I feel bad for the students who have smartphones and have to have it with them even while they’re studying. How can you get anything done in that environment?

    Brigitta wrote on May 20th, 2012
  7. I am very lucky to have a smartphone. I live in one country, my partner in another one, my dad in a third and mother and sister with families in a fourth. Thanks to the phone and a certain app I can send them little messages on what I am doing during the day, together with pictures sometimes. They read it when thy have time and then do the same.

    There is a nice closeness to it as well. I don’t think I’ll be able to do the challenge since I cannot imagine not to say goodnight over Skype on my phone or laptop to my boyfriend. However I have already taken off my Facebook off it since I’ve been catching myself overusing it.

    Aggie wrote on May 21st, 2012
  8. Dang, I was gonna check the later comments on this one, but…it’s 6:59 pm. Seeya!

    Cathy Johnson (Kate) wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  9. This was weirdly easy to implement. My husband was on board with trying this out (much to my surprise), so we’ve been keeping each other accountable.

    It’s like we’ve been handed a few more hours every day — and with a kinder and a 3 mo, we need all the time we can get. Suddenly we have all this time after dinner to go to the store, or tidy up, or even just hang out in the yard. We’re also going to bed a lot earlier. I am usually up til 2am, and lately I’ve been in bed by 11 (a couple hours after sunset).

    I would eventually like to eliminate most artificial lighting in our home; this is feeling a lot more achievable.

    em wrote on May 24th, 2012
  10. Many Factors Will Affect A Cholesterol Test

    aheartmedicine wrote on July 24th, 2012

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