Smartphone addiction, your marriage and the dopamine rush we all crave

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Smartphone addiction, your marriage and the dopamine rush we all crave

Out of our population of just over 57 million, about 31 million of us are online. Social media users have increased by over 20% when compared with the 2017 data. Our country’s five most popular social media platforms being WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, generally everyone with a smartphone accesses their social media account through their phone.

The 4th industrial revolution is firmly upon us, and is affecting every area of our lives. It’s almost 2019, and the millennials are in charge on virtually all fronts, including the home. But we think it’s wise to reflect on the impact the digital revolution has on families and our humanity in general.

If there were ever a generation in search of direction, authenticity and human connectedness, it has to be today’s millennials. Although many are armed with degrees from sterling institutions and have beautiful rented homes with expensive financed cars, many marriages seem a vast wasteland where their insatiable desire for quick fixes without putting in the work is the order of the day.

Something critical is missing, but success by individual achievement is the standard formula. With role models like the Kardashians being famous for basically nothing, success and genuine happiness in marriages seem like an elusive nirvana that is high on hype and low on substance.

We see so many couples and are invited on a number of events we are specifically asked to speak on themes like commitment, cell phone addiction, abandonment, rejection and boredom. Sometimes we wish we could physically shake some couples up and scream, “Put the cell phone down!”

However, the smart phone is on hand in many dinner tables both in restaurants and home, it’s even in the movie cinemas and in many bedrooms. We call it “the other spouse”.

We’ve been fooled into believing that technology is neutral. In the past we used to strongly argue that there’s nothing wrong with the smartphone and social media, but that something is wrong with an individual. How ignorant we were!

Software makers have mastered a sort of “addiction code” that keeps people compulsively engaged, such that we can’t stand leaving our phones for even a little while. In other words, the technology has been manipulated to leverage our brains’ habit-forming tendencies. Positive reaction to your social media releases a brain chemical called, dopamine. It’s the same release that makes us feel good when we’re rewarded for an achievement, or get a pat on the back for a job well-done.

Dopamine is triggered when we get another like on Instagram. We feel good. And if we’re addicted, we’ll hunt those likes even at midnight because we love it when we’re loved and validated. Many will work themselves to death just to get that recognition either at work or, even better, at home. In extreme scenarios that same dopamine release causes a drug addict to feel good when using drugs.

Smartphones and social media cause the same chemical release. It’s addictive! Software and App developers are fully aware of dopamine, and they are making billions of rands from it. And all the while, marriages are suffering as many couples are lonely with their spouses next to them, even with their smartphones online. They seek attention in the cyber space from people they’ve never met, and neglect the person they’re taking for granted across the dinner table.

We see it all the time. At a restaurant just the two of them, one spouse’s smartphone is on the table rather than in the handbag or pocket. It is even face down and set on silent – a pathetic attempt to be “polite”. It’s pathetic because when it rings, all that “politeness” flies off the window.

When you get up from the living room floor where you’ve been playing with the kids, you take the phone with you to the kitchen. Why exactly, you’re not quite sure, you might just need it, won’t you? Then at night you charge it beside your bed instead of doing so in another room. You can’t stand to lie in bed knowing there is some stimulation, some new information, some interaction out there that you haven’t accessed yet. You can’t stand because you’re addicted!

We used to love and be satisfied with the attention of our families and close circle of friends. But today we want 500 likes and 200 comments on Facebook and Instagram from people we don’t know. The extremes some would go to in order to get that attention on social media are untold. We know people that, if they don’t get “enough” likes or comments, they will delete the post – not because it was out of order, but merely because it didn’t generate “enough” social media interaction. Or else they would post something they believe is more attention-grabbing, even if causes harm on someone else’s reputation or is potentially embarrassing to them. We are a generation that has to attend to every ping of our smartphone, and if the phone is quiet after 30 mins, we check to ensure if the data is actually on.

In a world that has spent years chasing medications to improve our dopamine levels, the smartphone and social media from-which we seek to gain attention, relationships and instant gratification buzz can actually be harmful to us.

Your cell phone has already replaced your watch, camera, calendar, alarm clock, laptop, iPad, portable navigator, calculator and CD player. Don’t allow it to replace your family too.

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