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Why Are Screens So Addictive?

Apr 13, 2022
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Table of Contents

We’re all aware of the biggest addictions available to us in our everyday lives. After all, our society has done a seemingly fantastic job at warning us of their ill effects: cigarette packages come with government warnings and pictures of lung disease, alcohol has similar messages with liver cirrhosis. Medical patients are carefully considered before being prescribed opiates and amphetamines. Parents do their best to keep their kids away from sugar and caffeine.

And yet, there is one addiction that everyone seems to grapple with more than anything else; an addiction so prevalent that the average teenager wastes the majority of their waking hours dedicated to it. An addiction that is so prevalent that most people will openly tell you (even laugh about) their inability to get off of it.

The addiction is to screens: those magical phones, computers, and tablets that make us magically await their dazzling glow like a gambler to a slot machine. It’s weird: every one of every demographic seems to be distracted by their screens.

You can walk into a crowded restaurant to see an elderly man going through Facebook, a toddler with eyes fixed on a round of Fruit Ninja, or a millennial checking out the latest TikTok dances. Despite the vast differences in the content they’re consuming, they all have that mesmerized look, and they all know what it’s like to be lured back to the screen just minutes (or even seconds) logging off.

The alluring glow of a bright screen seems to have transcended the boundaries of other addictive products. Pulling out one’s phone requires no designated smoking area or “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” rule to be socially acceptable. Office workers can simply switch tabs for a quick Reddit scroll in the midst of their work. Screen distractions have been grandfathered in with much less puritan backlash than other pleasures.

So what is it about these screens that are so tantalizing? Let’s take a look at the top 3 explanations below:

1. They Streamline the Act of Being Social

50 years ago, there were fewer options for communicating long-range and engaging in popular culture. Family phones allowed household conversations to make one conversation at a time. You could listen to a handful of radio shows or see a few TV channels.

National pop culture was even more sparse: more than 40.3% of Americans tuned into the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan debut on the same channel at the same time. With screens? All of that has changed. We can text as many people as we want on half a dozen social media platforms. Culture has been divided into niches, sub-niches, and fandoms. There is always more content to consume, and you can never know every episode of the latest shows, or what every microcelebrity said about the latest controversy. Content is being generated at exponential rates. With screens, there’s always more content to scroll down through and more people to interact with on more mediums.

2. They Seem Cheaper Than Other Addiction

While screens waste an enormous amount of time, part of their allure is the fact that they’re a relatively cheap addiction: after you pay for it and a charger, it’s virtually free.

Instead of paying alcohol, cannabis, or cigarette tax along with the actual price of the product every time you need a fix, you need only pay a few cents to charge your screen back to 100%.

You also don’t have to worry about paying some shady guy on the street corner (or your insurance provider) a wad of cash for illicit substances. You can use free websites, games, and social media platforms. So much money saved!

Plus, there’s no cost in hiding your addiction. No one will see you pull out a phone and say “you realize how bad that is for you, right?” No one will smell the tablet on your clothes or your breath, or say “You look like you had a rough night. Was it from the Chromebook again?” No anonymous group meets together to say “Hi, I’m [name] and I’m a screen addict”.

Obviously, we pay more than our fair share in wasted time and brain cells, but the perceived cost-benefit of simply getting a buzz through a socially acceptable means of addiction is enough for anyone to get hooked.

3. They Distract Us From Problems

In a world where information about anything can be accessed instantly, it can be hard to go down the rabbit hole of craving new data.

Whether you like to read the latest tabloid updates in real-time, click blue links on Wikipedia all day, or simply wait for your war to start in Clash of Clans, there’s always some brand new information to consume.

Information is great when it teaches you something new and relevant. But the rapid speed of infinite information is just overwhelming and addictive. Like any addiction, consuming something and getting that rush from having more of it feels good.

That “feel good” rush of dopamine from getting the latest screen information can be detrimental though. We can depend on that feeling too much, and sooner or later, it becomes the mask for our real problems.

Screens Are Bad, so What’s the Solution?

A lot of people aren’t aware of how real screen addiction is. Sure they superficially acknowledge it, but dealing with your wasted hours of screen time starts with understanding that it’s a real addiction that isn’t any better than other addictions.

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably understand that. So how can you limit yourself on the screen? For one, you can start the day off the screen and try to get things done before you ever get the morning buzz of checking your phone or email or whatever.

You can also force yourself to stay off the screen for extended periods of time. If your willpower isn’t strong enough, you can have a friend or program block the internet from you.

A great way to accomplish both a morning routine and forced screen blockage is through Focus Bear. It’s easily customizable and puts you in full control of what tasks you need to get done, and when you do them.

Apr 13, 2022

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