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The New Addiction

    A great deal of time and energy is spent focusing on addictions. Alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex are the most discussed topics but there is a more powerful addiction that has arisen over the past 20 years which might even be more destabilising than all of them. The addiction I’m talking about is attention.

    The rise of the online world has rightly been celebrated for the rapid spread of information, helping build relational communities and engineering all manner of creative and charitable collaborations. However one of the negative effects of this online multi-level always-on world is the demands it can make of the user. The smart phone in particular seems like a useful way to develop closer communities but whose psychological cost might very high.

    One gentle way of exploring this is to ask how your own way of life may have changed in relation to the amount of time you spend on your phone or other device. Then focus more clearly on how much of that time is about the attention you need. Did you always need this level of attention? 

    It’s not unusual for me to see to a client whose problem is the lack of response he gets in relation to their posts on Facebook or Instagram. The pictures themselves are very rarely creative acts but are related to how they value themselves and how they need others to reinforce that value. How many times do you begin your day needing to know that your stories have been seen and liked? Do you need followers? Why? Has this need deepened over the years?

    There is a blurred line here between the needs of your business to grow and attract custom and the validation we get from being liked and followed. If you can be clear about the line then you are in an admirable position. Most young users are deeply attached to their devices and the opportunity for approval they represent. An addiction to attention becomes apparent when you recognise that the ‘likes’ of others determines how you feel about yourself. Constantly checking your phone for likes and posting the micro-details of your life is only going to make things worse.

    A good start is to step back and take a break from your phone. Put it down and do something else. Buy a diary. Start noting what feelings and emotions are stirred when you move away from your phone. Make a decision about what sort of relationship you want with your phone which will make you less dependent on the responses of hidden others. Sometimes the mere act of thinking about yourself away from others can help deepen your appreciation of yourself.

    We live in an increasingly networked universe and your device-related activity ‘speaks’ who you are through your usage. But we can only gain a sense of what we might to be in and for ourselves when we extract yourself from those myriad demands, requests and invites. This is not a decision that will find much support from those whose existence depends upon your contribution but it might get you to a place where you feel able to breathe and relax. 

    You are more than a response.