The ding of a reminder when you trying to watch TV, the famed Apple ringtone when you are deeply emerged in your post lunch carb coma, these are the bells of Ivan Pavlov, except you are the dog and Pavlov. These are the the triggers we tend not to notice which release a tiny bit of that stress hormone Cortisol each time they interrupt our experience. They shock the system, disrupt flow and offer an escape from dealing with difficult situations.
Before these fantastic contraptions were developed we used to use other forms of technology to retain information for us. A diary to keep appointments, letters used to arrive with a peaceful flop to the ground and so on, and… well social media was found between magazines, newspapers and actual socialising. Disclaimer: I am not advocating against information technology, I am merely seeking to draw a comparison between the increased rate of anxiety in phone users and the lack thereof before we became pseudo-cyborgs.
We would eek out our stress throughout the day of an impending meeting by thinking about it, rather than stick in a phone and forget about it. Pangs of anxiety would be caused by daring acts, facing injury or illness, or loud shocking noises. Go back even further and the anxiety was considering which predators were stalking us.
We would savour a phone call due to its high cost, or just not be available, rather than having to be considered dead or disrespectful by not answering. There was no subtext to someone’s availability, there were no personal affronts. There was no thought of “why haven’t they answered”?, “Did I offend them”?, “what a dick!” or “Are they dead?”..
Letters got lost in the mail. Letters were long and thoughtful, as were there responses which were weeks or even months apart. Time was taken to digest matters and there was no need for our nervous system to be attacked for an instant response.
Now, we are intrinsically linked to our smartphones, they are useful for storing data in a logical place so that we are free to enjoy the randomness of our minds. Free to experience our thoughts, our work, our emotions, yet all are often interrupted by the ding of the phone.
We seem to store our anxiety within the phone. What pang of anxiety is triggered when we hear the phone ring, or a reminder come up. When we are enjoying our music or a train ride and someone invades our personal space and that of those around us through calling this loud ringing box. We are being called away from our flow state.
Unread breakup messages, which have left one party and sit there containing a bag of emotions for the recipient. Carefully curated social media content ready to give you a dose of instant anger, envy, or even delight. The computer game in which you destroy a city becomes the dummy you suck on when an uncomfortable thought arises.
This technology truly is a facility for logically stored emotions, from which we self inflict attacks as much as our subconscious does.
Try an experiment. Turn off notifications and see what life is like when you give yourself uninterrupted time to do your work, think about something (positive or negative) and think for yourself.
You may have a whole lot of repressed emotions waiting to burst out, or you may notice the peaceful silence.