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Are you addicted to your phone?

“What is genuinely worth your attention on an interrupted basis?” asks Tristan Harris, founder of the Time Well Spent non-profit. A former project manager at Google, he travels around the country talking about the effects our smart phones have on our brains, causing addiction to our phones.

Think about this for a few minutes. What is addiction? The World Health Organization defines gaming disorder as “marked by ‘impaired control’ over gaming, which leads to it taking priority over other interests and activities. The behavior persists even as it causes ‘significant impairment’ in areas such as personal relationships, school or work.”

Gaming has its benefits – social interaction, recreation and exercise – but it becomes a problem when it “involves a prolonged or recurring habit that comes at the expense of a person’s functioning outside of games and that may damage close relationships or interferes with the pursuit of education and career goals,” WHO says.

“Libby” grew concerned because she felt she was spending too much time with her cell phone. Every new app she added to her phone asked authorization to send notifications. “No,” was her standard answer. She started to carry her phone less – she didn’t want it velcroed to her hip. She often put it on silent. Her family became upset every time they called or texted and she didn’t respond immediately. She recalled she used to react the same way until she asked, “What did we do before we had cell phones?”

Every time “Joan” and her husband got into the car and she was the driver, he whipped out his phone to play on social media, catching critters, participating in raids and community days in snatches of time. They didn’t talk much anymore because he usually had his nose in the phone.

“She needs to be present in the moment, to put down her phone,” a woman said of her sister who kept her phone on her person most of the time, always scrolling Facebook, posting at Instagram and Snapchatting with friends. Her family wondered how many screen hours she actually had daily.

All of the apps on your phone are designed to distract you, to block your focus, to interfere with your “in-your-face” life among friends and family. And they work. How do you feel when you are talking to someone and they suddenly open their smart phone to check it? How many times has someone remarked that your screen had more attention than they did?

There is much more involved with those handy-dandy handheld game and communication devices we carry around. It is reported that people feel compelled to check their phones every 15 minutes or less. How do you rate in that? What about your teenagers? Have you observed their phone activities? Phones for gossip have changed in 50 years, Harris said. Our devices are designed to keep us engaged, using the same logic that is behind slot machines, all the bells and whistles that signal the rewards of winning, Harris says.

Visit online at www.digitaldetox.org where you can watch the 60 Minutes Rewind story, “Brain Hacking,” with contributor Anderson Cooper and other resources about this topic. You will hear that your eyeballs are being sold on social media. Advertising, the app developers, has learned how to program your mind, made you part of a “controlled set of experiments happening in real time.” Developers use an addiction code to develop apps that are entertaining, engaging and distracting.

The impact of technology on the brain is that the adrenal gland releases cortisol, the brain chemical that causes us to engage the fight or flight response. It causes anxiety. Our phones keep us in that state of anxiety and we may not even realize it. But researchers are studying it. The goal is to program us to form a habit, they say, “this race to the bottom of the brain stem,” our primitive emotion center.

The problem is real. Technology appears to rule too much of our time, interfering with the things we used to do, the people we used to relate to but no longer have time enough for. It is a serious and important matter to look at, and make changes that will put control over you back into your hands.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. Visit the web site at www.familyrecovery.org. Family Recovery Center is funded, in part, by Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.

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