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You're Amazing. Please Put down Your Phone.

Andrew Foster speaking at Milton Keynes Geek Night in March, 2017
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About this talk

We love technology but what is constant smartphone use doing to our minds, our attention and our relationships with other human beings? Andrew will draw on current research into attention and mindfulness to suggest that there might be a better way to enjoy the technology without sacrificing our own awesomeness.


- I'm Andrew Foster, and I want to remind you that you're amazing, but suggest you might be a little bit better if you occasionally put your phone down. We all love technology, but in my work with clients, I often wonder what our pervasive use of smartphones is actually doing to our mind, our attention and our relationships. I often find with my clients what they pay attention to has a significant impact on their mental well-being, so I'd like to give you some hints and tips. I believe that pervasive and inattentive smartphone use is actually disconnecting us from our essential selves and stopping us being the real you. My experience is, truly amazing people accept themselves in all their messy glory. They accept the good and the bad. There's only one of you on the planet. You should kinda celebrate your uniqueness. I'm not sure that smartphones and social media apps actually celebrate that. I think they distract us. I think they can help us create false selves, and they can damage our sense of identity if we're not careful. How many of us have created idealised, manicured, curated self-images that we present on social media that are nothing to do with us? How many digital messages bombard you telling you to do this, be this, think this? How many incorrect assumptions do we absorb from that? Is my life not up to scratch? Am I not meeting some sort of arbitrary standard of behaviour? I've felt that. I'm sure people in this room have as well. What's it doing to connexions? We have this hyperconnected, networked world presented to us through this beautiful slab of glass and electronics, but I think it's actually stopped us making fundamental connexions in more important areas of our lives. So what about the connexions to our thoughts? What do we really think? The connexions to our emotions, what am I really feeling? Why am I feeling guilty if I'm reading this? And what about our connexions to other people, real human beings not little avatars on the screen? I think excessive smartphone use breaks those connexions, and it narrows our focus onto whatever the Apple content developer wants us to think or feel, and I think that does us all a disservice. What does the research say? This is quite scary, University of Lincoln did a research, it's quite a small group of individuals, where young people on average spent five hours a day on their smartphone, and they underreported. Now that's a polite academic way of saying they're lying. They're spending more time than five hours a day. That's more than a third of their waking day. What are they missing out on if they're spending all their time looking at the black mirror. There's a piece of research that was done by Microsoft Canada in 2015, and this is also the piece of research that says we've got a shorter attention span than a goldfish now, so it's worth having a look at, and that talks about that digital lifestyles deplete the ability to remain focused on a single task. I certainly feel less focused than I did ten years ago, and that addictive technology behaviours are apparent particularly in younger users, so addiction and distraction. Does anybody recognise that from using their smartphone? So what does that lead us to? Self soothing behaviour, why are we doing this? I think constant smartphone use can often indicate that we're distracting ourselves to make ourselves feel better. We might be feeling sad, anxious, bored. We might have obsessive thoughts. We might be frustrated, so we reach for the phone, we get a cat picture, we get a dopamine hit, happy days. There's nothing wrong with doing that occasionally, but if you're doing it all the time there is a problem, 'cause effectively it means you're living in denial. If you're in denial, you're not being the real you. You're kind of abdicating responsibility for your emotions, your thoughts, distracting yourself all the time. It's a sophisticated form of denial, but it is still denial. I think you're creating a stunted version of your real self, and it doesn't help, so think what you might be missing. Pay close attention to your motivation. It's not what you do, it's why you do it. If you find yourself constantly reaching for the smartphone, ask yourself the question what's going on here? Why am I feeling like this, what's the problem? What are you missing? Negative mindstates are often a clue that there's something wrong. If you're feeling frustrated, sad, bored, upset, it's your subconscious or your brain telling you that there's something wrong, and you need to address it. So please put your phone down occasionally. I'm not asking you to give it up, 'cause I know I'll get lynched. Respect it's attention grabbing ability. These devices are designed to be an attention sink. They will eat as much attention as you're willing to give them, so enjoy it, but just be mindful when you're using it. Pay attention to your thoughts. Are you avoiding anything, when you're reaching for the phone to look at cat pictures, what are you avoiding in your head? Bad thoughts won't kill you. Your brain's trying to help you, just let it do that. Breathe deeply, that relieves anxiety and is probably better than a cat picture. Go outside, you know, there's a world out there. The me space is lovely, and the coffee's a lot better in the real world. Finally, share yourself with a human. If you're feeling frustrated, sad, fed up, go and talk to somebody. You're amazing, you're unique. They'll be really interested, and it'll mean more than going click. Thank you.