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A few years ago, Jeff Foxworthy hosted a show called Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? Mark Burnett, the producer of the show, may want to consider a new concept that taps into the Zeitgeist—Are You Smarter than Your Smartphone?

This column, Overplugged, is a discussion about our relationship to technology. It seeks to provide practical advice on methods to strike a healthy balance between our digital and analog lives. Overplugged embraces modern methods of communication (blogs, smartphones, social media, apps), but not without first considering its effects.

The issue of technology often gets framed in an either/or proposition: either you unquestioningly step into the brave new world or you are behind the times. In reality, there is a large gap between a tech fundamentalist and living off the grid. That large gap contains most of the public: people who may love their iPhone but also love to be creative, productive, and happy. If the phone is negatively impacting those areas, it may be time to reconsider the relationship. It’s not about getting rid of the phone, but more likely using it differently.

This is the first part of reclaiming real-time living (analog life): taking control of how you use your smartphone. How often do you look at your smartphone? If it is too often, you will need to start altering your habit of unconsciously peeking at the phone. Habits, as we know, die hard. You will need to untether that automatic twitch you’re getting to check if you have another message. You’re fighting against a neurochemical habit that has you conditioned to reflexively look at your smartphone, so it will take some time to alter.

A smartphone taps into our nervous system with its use of various beeps and buzzes. Each sound gives off a possible award. Perhaps you are receiving an important email from the boss or a love text from a paramour. You need to check it. The sound triggers a release of dopamine to your brain.  (You’re disappointed to see that it was a monthly email blast from a list you don’t remember signing up for.)

If constantly looking at your smartphone is getting in the way of your real-time living, it is time to consciously think about your behavior. By being more aware of your constant checking you are better able to gain control over your use of the phone. The next time you are hanging out with friends or family, make a conscious effort to fully connect in your conversation. This may mean putting away your phone for an hour or two. It’s difficult at first (for heavy users), but soon you will begin creating new neurological pathways.

It’s fine to be plugged in, but sometimes we realize that we have to plug back into life.

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