PHONE–LIFE BALANCE- The need of the hour

Situation back then…..

Until 17 years ago when I was pursuing my Masters in Psychology, the most common research that was taken up in the domain of human behaviour was around the area of ‘Work-Life balance’.  With the surge  of  Multinational companies in the late 1990’s, India saw a change not only with regards to its economy but also in terms of how the then generation began to define work ethics and job satisfaction. Hence, researchers were beginning to explore factors related to job satisfaction and one’s personal life in the Indian context during that period.  However, in this world of millennials, smartphones have taken priority over all other human needs. Whether it is for work or personal use, phone provides an apt means of communication. Plus the FOMO (fear of missing out) is an added icing to the cake. It will not be an exaggeration if I were to add smartphone as one of the basic survival needs (at the bottom of the pyramid) in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The alarming statistics in terms of the number of users across all social media sites logging in from their phones have now led to a need to understand the dynamics of human ‘Phone-life’ balance.

The Here and Now….

In light of the same, a research study was recently held by Motorola in partnership with Harvard University in which 4418 smart phone users aged 16-65 years from U.S.A, Brazil, France and India participated. It was found that 49% participants agreed to compulsive use of their phones, 35% agreed to spending excessive time on their phones, 65% panicked on the thought of having lost their phones and 3 in 10 believed that they were thinking about using the phone when their phone was out of sight. Also it was discovered that such issues were more pervasive among the younger generation as 53% of participants described phone as their best friend. In another survey taken up by Deloitte last year among 4000 adults, 38% participants reported to be using their phones excessively.

My worry is that how long will we wait before the health concerns like text claw, occipital neuralgia, back pain problems, eyesight weakness, hearing problems and psychosocial concerns like phone driven anxiety, facebook depression and obsessive compulsive phone and social media use to become an epidemic across the tech enabled millennials? It has been observed that people accessing social media through phones have come to manifest withdrawal symptoms and increased tolerance, symptoms which are similar to those that get reflected as a result of substance or drug abuse. Isn’t it true that the projected image of the self and the world lures us more when we mindlessly look through each notification and compulsively like, share or comment on it? Have the multiple filters available in the picture editors made us so mechanical that we have become wary of our true identities. Surely, an individual’s true personality is masked by what is socially desirable of him but has our need to catch up with the evolving times and our heightened need for self-validation  become so desperate that we are left with no room for an authentic vent out of our natural selves?

Overcoming the compulsions

On one hand where the government of Uganda has been trying to implement social media tax ( to limit people’s use of social media (mostly from phone), on the other hand, Harris (an ex Google employee) has founded the Centre for Humane Technology to work out means for minimizing users’ screen time. Harris suggested that people must banish phones from their bedside to at least enable peaceful sleep through the night. In an attempt to ensure ‘Phone-life balance’, Amit Agarwal, Amazon’s India head wrote an e-mail to his senior staff asking them not to answer calls or reply to work related e-mails after the office hours. ‘No business decision should be taken between 6:00 pm and 8:00 am’, he added.  We need more and more leaders like Mr.Amit Agarwal who really value the personal space of their employees and enable them to maintain distance from technology while in their personal time. Apple, too has recently committed to introduce a tool to improve ‘digital well-being’ of its users too.

In her book, ‘How to break up with your Phone’, Catherine Price mentions that addiction to our phones was not our fault. However, it is imperative that we find ways to work around this technology, to replace the onscreen compulsive behaviours with on screen educational behaviours. In one of the Facebook live sessions, the motivational speaker Jay Shetty shared how it was possible for us to replace entertainment on phone with education. I tried using this tip and every time I felt the need to pick up my phone to listen to music or check any social media site during my morning walk; I tried replacing it with an audiobook of my choice. Eventually overtime it became a habit with me and I was able to complete 4-5 books within a month, which was otherwise not possible.

It is high time that we become mindful of our ‘on screen’ behaviours and consciously engage into the activities in the present moment. As technology is capitalizing on the users’ inherent insecurities and high need for validation; we are unconsciously paying high prices with respect to our mental and physical health by minimized interaction with the natural environment.

It is hence the need of the hour that we learn to use technology as armour and not let it constrain us. Rather than becoming the slaves of technology, we need to learn to take a distance from it, use it to optimize our productivity and not let it exploit our EQ on account of the social media revelations.