Managing digital addiction

USV's book club book for this month is Drug Dealer, MD, by Dr. Anna Lembke, Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford Hospital - so we have spent a bunch of time recently talking about addiction.

It is not a stretch to hypothesize that we, as a society, are at a moment of heightened addiction, generally speaking. Binging on Netflix, checking phones constantly for emails and "likes", playing Fortnite, vaping, pills, etc. There are a lot of forces pulling us towards a pattern of repeated short-term, immediate "highs".

I worry about all of these forms of addiction, particularly for my kids, who are just entering the "danger zone" where the combination of access to things and social pressure starts to cause problems -- for example, what's happening with vaping, starting in middle school, is surprisingly powerful and terrifying.

Naomi, who proposed the book, invited Dr. Lembke to join us yesterday for our discussion, which was fantastic.  In addition to talking in depth about the causes and treatments for opioid addiction, we spent some time talking about digital addiction -- screens, games, etc.

I cannot at all claim that I am good when it comes to managing screen addiction, but we have done a few things around our house that I think are helpful, so I thought I would mention them here.

1/ No devices in the bedroom -- no phones, computers, or TV allowed. I charge my phone on a dresser across the room from the bed.  This serves double duty of forcing me to get out of bed to turn off the alarm.

2/ Meditation.  Meditation seems to me to be the most obvious antidote and counter-force to addictions of all kind.  For this reason it doesn't surprise me at all that it is surging in popularity right now. Meditation not only focuses the mind, helping to shed the the static, but it also helps build that muscle to resist the moment-to-moment impulses that are so common with digital addiction.

3/ Physical activities.  As much as I can, I try to engage in completely "analog" physical activities, especially with my kids.  Sports (playing, coaching), projects in and around the house.  Skiing, while expensive and hard to do a lot, is probably my favorite, as it's really an extended digital vacation.

4/ Read physical books.  Whether I'm reading before bed, or reading in the living room around my family, I try to read in print form.  Or, worst case, if I am reading something digital around my family, I prefer to do it on a tablet rather than my phone -- this is a subtle difference but I think it really does change the social dynamic (you are more "there" and others can see what you're doing).

Zach was telling me yesterday that he sometimes does "no social media Saturdays", which I like. I don't do that formally, but I definitely do orient my weekends around non-digital activities as much as possible.

One area I would like to work on is not keeping my phone with me when I'm in the house, especially when I am with the family. I often keep the phone plugged in and charging in the kitchen, which helps, but is not 100% the norm.

I am also trying to do this without making a lot of rules for the kids around screen time.  I prefer to get them to enjoy non-digital activities, rather than hold out screen time as some sort of prize if they abstain for long enough.

As anyone who has dealt first-hand with addiction knows, it is an awful thing, that can destroy people, relationships and families.  So given that there is so much ambient opportunity for it these days, I think it's really important to try and be proactive around it.

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