Years of Our Lives Down the Tubes

Words with Friends recently congratulated me on my eight-year anniversary as a player. This was not advisable on their part because my first reaction was "Eight years? Eight years?! I've blown countless hours on this game over the past eight years???" Granted, much of that time was spent as I slumped on the couch, already wasting my life away because the television was on, but still--

That'll be eight years, please.

That'll be eight years, please.

Their message had the further misfortune to coincide with me finally getting around to reading a book on addictive technology and highlighting half the thing:


Consider some startling facts author Adam Alter lays out there:

  • "In 2008, adults spent an average of eighteen minutes on their phones per day; in 2015, they were spending two hours and forty-eight minutes per day."
  • "One recent study suggested that up to 40 percent of the population suffers from some form of Internet-based addiction, whether to email, gaming, or porn," and college kids have it even worse, hitting 48%.
  • "Most people spend between one and four hours on their phones each day--and many far longer...Over the average lifetime, that amounts to a staggering eleven years [italics his]."

What qualifies as an addiction? It used to be that addictions were just for substances, but now behavioral addiction has been shown to have similar symptoms and affect the same pathways of the brain as substance addiction.

Almost half of the population [has] experienced the following symptoms: [the] loss of ability to choose freely whether to stop or continue the behavior (loss of control) and [the] experience of behavior-related adverse consequences. In other words, the person becomes unable to reliably predict when the behavior will occur, how long it will go on, when it will stop, or what other behaviors may become associated with the addictive behavior. As a consequence, other activities are given up or, if continued, are no longer experienced as being enjoyable as they once were. Further negative consequences of the addictive behavior may include interference with performance of life roles (e.g., job, social activities or hobbies), impairment of social relationships, criminal activity and legal problems, involvement in dangerous situations, physical injury and impairment, financial loss, or emotional trauma.

Yikes. Now, Words with Friends is no World of Warcraft (named as the most addictive video game of all time, so far), but reading this book taught me about the microrewards and other little tricks even WWF uses to keep players playing--those "coins" we accumulate, the periodic "events" and solo challenges and game variations. Scrabble used to be a game I'd invite people over to play. Now we all just sit on our phones and only very occasionally use the chat feature to interact. Even when my mom, my sister, and I get together and haul out the physical Scrabble board, in between our turns we'll often be on our phones!

My eyes have been opened. Consider this post awareness-raising. I'd offer some solutions here, but I haven't gotten to that part of the book. It's too late for my oldest, collegiate child (who bought her own iPhone and stares at it constantly), but the two I still have at home are going to be badgered with more conversation at dinner and face-to-face interactions over those home-cooked meals.

Make some eye contact today. Quit reading this blog and put down your phone or shut your laptop and go interact with a live person. Imagine adding back eleven years to your life, without even going to the gym!