Have we become a slave to our own devices? Have smart developing teams successfully implemented hooks that makes us almost permanently use their services? What’s next on the way to a constant connection to the people and to the world? Interesting questions I believe. The fact that you read this alone means that you have somewhat of an interest in this as well.
Need for communication
Humans are by nature social creatures and a key aspect to that is that we want to communicate. We do this by giving out information and receiving back information. We want to know the latest updates and news from the subjects that matter to us and from the people who matter to us. This can be family, friends, people we admire or plainly people of public interest like politicians or celebrities. We want to know the latest always and the smartphone is a certain way of receiving these updates.
Other than passive means of acquiring information, the social networks and the instant messengers are also very important to the aspect of communication. This is almost considered active communication in real-time. You have the option of not replying to a message instantly but you can when needed. But even this handy tool of bridging distance in communication can become a nuisance and distress factor. Ever overheard someone saying “Stop texting me!” over a lengthy or high-frequency conversation on an instant messenger? That’s the negative outcome of being unable to control the input of communication in form of instant messages or “texts”.
Need for entertainment
Humans also have a need for being entertained. That was always the case going back in history as well. We work hard and want to laugh. We get bored and want to embrace interesting content and share it with like-minded people. You could consider games and video platforms to be a major representative of this category. However like with almost everything, the social networks also found a space supplying us with not only information but entertain us.
For example we can leverage Instagram to get a feeling and an insight into the lives of others. Is it relevant and meaningful for us to see the latest dinner snapshots from your favorite K-Pop star? No. Is it interesting to see? Yes. Feel free to replace the example with any scenario applicable to you and it still works out. Everybody wants to see more and check out the space behind the scene.
Fear of missing out
This is a concept, which has been introduced to me recently by Wired editor Max Biederbeck. The fear of missing out, also known by its acronym FoMO, describes a socio-psychological issue that can potentially lead to pathological use of the Internet and other forms of technology abuse, that originates in the fear of not being “in the loop” with the social environment and not knowing, what others know. A similar motivation can be found in all kinds of gatherings of people, with the objective to exchange news and even gossip. The gossip and news gatherings are as old as mankind itself too.
The difference is that previously such urges and behaviour could hardly lead to behavioural change that could be considered as unhealthy. To give this an example please imagine an important event in your social or professional network and for some reason you are unable to attend. Due to the technological possibilities and connectivity we have nowadays, the affected person is able to gather glimpses and insights from the event remotely, as it happens and later on, via social media networks and other channels of communication.
This fear of missing out can become a serious medical and psychological condition and should not be underestimated. If you spot such symptoms in your own behaviour or with someone you know, please consider professional help. The studies of Andrew Przybylski point out that FoMO is most common in those expressing unsatisfied psychological needs such as the pursuit of being loved and respected in a social circle. To understand more about FoMO you should also check out “FoMO: Do you have a Fear of Missing Out?” by Claire Cohen on The Daily Telegraph.
The push notification
On smartphones and tablets the push notification is the little message item that pops into your notification area and sometimes even right in front of your screen. It is the element that tells you “Here! There is something new for you!”. On default this notification makes a noise and a vibration alarm buzz along with visual indicators to make sure there is no way you could have overlooked this. They are the assisting lifeline that keeps you in touch with what and who is important to you. While it is certainly more handy than first opening every app and service to check if there is something new, it costs a certain price and that is the peace of mind and it can add stress to a degree.
A way to get back a little bit of your freedom
I found that disabling audio and vibration alerts on the device can greatly help reduce the stress factor that comes with these notifications. Now the device no longer tells you when to check on it, but it is you again in charge. You check your device on your terms and there are no more hooks from apps that makes you take out the smartphone or tablet, unlocks it and checks for the latest items popping up.
You are now hooked in your physical environment and with the actual people around you. When you feel like it and when it’s not too inappropriate to do so you may check on your updates whenever you wish, but no machine will make you do so at the cost of relationships or even your safety in traffic or other dangerous situations. I have mute my smartphone and disabled the vibration alerts a while back and I really enjoy the mode. Feel free to try that out for some days and see how that works for you.
Another option is to leverage smartwatches or similar devices which are connected to your phone. Believe it or not, they actually support being human and sociable more than taking your phone out of the pocket, unlocking it to start checking though the notifications and updates only to always find the next thing you need to reply to or action upon. Think smartwatches are too expensive? Let me give you a calculation. I bought my smartwatch about two years ago and it costed me about €0.27 per day in order to have a lot better user experience with a lot less social conflicts with my peers. Seems like a fair pricing to me but that is merely optional.
The main bullet here is, you have to be in control of what you do and when you do it. External gizmos that manipulate you more or less passively should be reduced to a minimum in order to be without stress.