This is the story of my addiction to technology and how it has given meaning to my work with Siempo.
I got my first cell phone and personal computer in my room at the ripe ol’ age of 13.
I share my story because I’m one of the many digital natives who has deeply struggled with smartphone, social media and internet addiction. I’ve also put nearly five years of time and energy into questioning and improving my relationship with technology, and now have the privilege of leading a team that is working on a solution to the digital attention crisis.
One digital native’s struggle.
From the day I received these shiny, insidious tools to my first night without WiFi 10 years later, I operated under a hypnosis that stifled my development and watered down my potential.
The prime years of my life were more of a lost decade. This is not hyperbole. I was largely an unhappy, lonely, apathetic and directionless teenager. It’s complicated to trace the paths of causation, but emerging research reinforces the notion that screens are fundamentally changing the essence of our being and exacerbating the aforementioned states.
I was part of the first generation to endure this new reality, and am in for a life-long process of remediation.
I wonder how much human to human connection time in my teenage years was replaced by AIM, Facebook and Reddit, and how that stunted my social skills during a critical development phase of my life. I recall feeling lonely and left out on a regular basis, but had neither the emotional maturity to recognize and regulate these feelings, nor the mentors to see that something was wrong and offer support.
I pegged my self-worth to social media metrics and how consumed I was with constant communication, expending invaluable energy constructing intricate online facades of the person I wasn’t. I used to take pride in things like “knowing” so many people and holding records for # of messages on a list-serve, despite feeling anxiety in many IRL social situations.
The more my attention was pulled out of my body, the less connection I had with my intuition. This may be one of the bigger tragedies few acknowledge–that we are losing our ability to listen to what our body needs and knows.
I could not pay attention in the majority of my college lectures, where phones and laptops were freely welcomed. I worked my tail off for a 2.98 GPA, given that I was spending four (five? six?) hours per day on my phone alone. Social media and messaging apps made it so easy to stop and do something else whenever I hit a wall, preventing me from truly working hard and smart. I certainly didn’t “learn how to think,” and therefore struggled to develop strong foundations for advanced studies, mental models, personal values and opinions on pretty much anything. My sphere of caring about people and events did not extend past my peer groups on social media.
Once I nearly injured a friend while stealing a glance at my phone when I was supposed to be spotting him on the bench press. I can’t count how many times I almost got into an accident due to texting + driving, and texting + walking.
I really didn’t deserve significant chunks of my salary from previous employers because of the amount of time I spent working on personal things (mostly social and dating life) instead of work. In job after job, I felt neither energized nor motivated, despite believing I was an expert at multi-tasking. One of my deepest regrets is compulsively running upstairs after family meals (not just holiday dinners) to get back to surfing the web. Hours and hours of missed quality time and conversation with relatives that I will never get back. I cringe at the thought of spending family car rides buried in my devices and precious vacations holed up alone in the hotel room.
I’m sorry for the bad example I set for my younger siblings. It’s with a heavy heart that I believe smartphones and social media prevented me from developing stronger relationships with my family until later in life. No wonder Steve Jobs and other tech executives did not let their kids use their products, and Dong Nguyen pulled Flappy Bird from the App Store.
Not only was I obsessively checking social media profiles, I would also wake up in the middle of the night and find myself swiping through multiple dating apps for half an hour, praying that this person would swipe me or that person would respond to my messages. This gave me such a flawed perception of romance and relationships, as well as my own value as a human. For awhile I saw dating as a game, where more matches and dates were somehow an indication of personal success. For a shy and awkward guy already comfortable with doing everything else online, I grew dependent on these outlets for pseudo-romantic connection. The apps gave me such a rush whenever I was feeling lonely or needing validation.
Mental health is about being able to work to your full potential, cope with day to day stress, feel connected to others, and live your life in a free and satisfying way.
With that definition, my mental health was poor for that first decade with technology. Sleep deprived, overworked and lonely. I walked around the real world with a frown, and the online world with a mask.
I can only imagine how much worse things would have been if I were born 10 years later. What if I had a fully loaded iPhone at age 11 instead of 21?
It’s a tragedy that we have limitless potential, yet we squander our attention unknowingly to powerful interests creeping their way into our inner worlds at an accelerating rate. We increasingly have less control over our thoughts and wellbeing than we realize.
Seeing distortions as gifts.
Despite these disturbing experiences, I have to appreciate the phenomenon whereby my personal struggles and subsequent digital wellness journey would later guide me towards this purpose-driven work and give me the capacity to truly empathize with Siempo users. Little did I know that my inability to pay attention in business school classes would give me the power as a leader to consider alternative possibilities in all areas, freeing me from pressures of expectation to create in the ways that could jeopardize the gift we want to give to humanity.
It has taken me five years of experimenting with dozens of combinations of apps and new habits–not to mention expensive and esoteric transformative experiences–to crawl myself out of these addictions and set up my own systems for success. Now what if our tools were simply designed that way?
I’m ecstatic about the abundance of opportunities to reimagine how our society can be better served by technology and the companies behind it.
Now that we know better, we can do better. And that’s what fires me up: we are finally coming to a collective understanding of the impact of these products on people and society, and are doing something about it! I’m grateful to be a part of the movement to reverse the digital attention crisis and realign technology with humanity’s best interests.
In a way, the consumer industrial complex has given us these magical tools that when designed with different objectives and used with skillful intention can break one out of all social programming — the hypnosis of technology, of self-doubt, of otherness—and move them up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Imagine this magical wand as an all-knowing and benevolent mentor to help individuals and communities connect with a better version of themselves and realize more of their full potential.
Imagine a world where the next billion smartphone users are not jacked into the attention economy, but instead learn how to balance the power of tech with how it can enrich their lives.
We can’t yet escape the toxic and oppressive digital city that unchecked capitalism has constructed for us. We can, however, learn to navigate it more deliberately. We can create safer communities and train each other on how to protect ourselves.
Technology is at the center of my journey. Though its shadow side of attentional warfare has often gotten in the way of my life, it has also enabled my development in innumerable ways from human connection to career progression. Facebook has landed me jobs that made me come alive. Reddit and Tinder have helped me navigate confusing sexuality. Insight Timer led me to finally cultivate a daily meditation practice. If there is a light at the end of this attention grabbing tunnel, it’s that in becoming more intentional about how one uses their technology, it seems they tend to free up time and space to be more thoughtful about how they show up in all other aspects of life.
For that, I am hopeful.
If you are struggling with your relationship with technology, know you can lean on me for support! I am happy to listen non-judgmentally. I get paid to think about this all day long, and in the process have begun to informally coach a number of friends 💜 Write me at andrew at siempo dot co.
Do you have a similar story and feel called to share? We are accepting submissions on Siempo’s Medium page!
Andrew Murray Dunn is a Co-Founder and CEO at Siempo, giving people their lives back from tech addition.
He envisions a world in which we have figured out how to make it work together so each of us can flourish. We have the resources, imagination and motivation to do so.