Smartphone addiction

The habit of ‘Checking’ : why do we do it?

From the anticipation of a football match to a devoted fan to a lottery ticket buyer, it appears that human beings are excited by uncertainty. Digital media is refreshed constantly, and the need to access this stream of updates becomes a compulsion for many. So why does our brain like it so much?


The Shallows writer Nicholas Carr’s research reveals ‘Plasticity’ is the normal state of the nervous system throughout the lifespan. “Our brains are constantly changing in response to our experiences and our behaviour, reworking their circuitry with each sensory input, motor act, association, reward signal, action plan or shift of awareness. This has the obvious negative effects, as ‘certain circuits in our brain strengthen through repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit. We long to keep it activated. The brain fine tunes operations. Routine activities are carried out quickly and efficiently, while unused circuits are pruned away.” And so we find ourselves reaching for our smartphones hundreds of times a day in a mechanical reflex.


The brain fine tunes operations. Routine activities are carried out quickly and efficiently, while unused circuits are pruned away. – Nicholas Carr


What I learnt from taking a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat, was that our bodies are having sensations all the time. We then react to those sensations instinctively with either craving or aversion – in other words we like something and want more of it, or we dislike it and push away the unwanted thing that comes into contact with our senses. By going cold turkey for that extremely difficult period (no speech, no distractions such as paper and pen, reading or phones) I realised that the cravings disappeared, and that I didn’t miss them. I’m a big meat eater, but the vegetarian food with delicious, and I found that I didn’t miss meat. However, the tricky part is what to do when you leave the retreat, as I gradually returned to my normal habits and behaviour.


In the novel The Dice Man, Luke Reinhart is a bored psychiatrist who comes to his own conclusion that psychoanalysis may have little consequence, a colleague, Dr. Mann thunders back at him: “Each of our lives is a finite series of errors which tend to become rigid and repetitious and necessary… You take away all his habits, compulsions and channelled drives, and you take away ‘him.’ “ In his article The joy of doing the same thing over and over again, Will Self sees repetition as a comfort, ‘because that’s what makes life liveable, isn’t it, knowing what the hell’s going to happen next? And this entails establishing behavioural patterns – what we call at the societal level customs, and at the individual one, habits.’


As an app developer I finally managed to stop checking my daily app sales, which used to give me a dopamine rush as the browser loaded, which then without fail gave me a feeling of disappointment as an indie app developer’s sales are rarely much to write home about. Yet I was compelled to do this to myself every day! So I used the analytics site App Annie to automate the process. Now the reports are emailed to me and I can take it or leave it – it’s kind of like half checking 🙂

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We are automated Intro

WE ARE AUTOMATED : introduction


Welcome to – the site that aims to be the number one resource for all things automated. Automation, in terms of the software revolution currently happening, is both useful and detrimental to humans. We will debate this on a case by case, unbiased basis.


This project started from conversations we’d had about the prevalence of artificial intelligence in sci-fi films, the automation of jobs that are occurring from computer programming, and a philosophical question that both of us had been interested in for many years: to what degree are we humans automatons? And with the web linking us all together, are we becoming a merged consciousness? How much of this blog are ‘our’ ideas anyway? What does an opinion mean now, if a person is interlinked with billions of similar minds receiving the same information?

The mobile phone revolution and the social media boom that followed have captured us all, leaving many hopelessly addicted to their smartphones. The way we use this media is clearly changing our brains and how we learn and communicate. It’s bound to, because as The Shallows writer Nicholas Carr notes: “media not only alters perception, but works on the nervous system itself.”

We are becoming machine-like in the way we take in data. Does anyone else feel that life has become robotic? The technology race feels relentless: never to pause, only to increase in speed and processing power. The coders are in the driving seat, and a steady flow of startups aim to make things ‘easier, simpler, automated’ for us. But it is our lives that are now automated in repetitive processes created by this electronic media. The habit of ‘checking’ is the most addictive, mentally damaging affliction of our time. 


Checking email, Facebook likes, Instagram follows, and frantic Google searches for a quick data hit.. the list goes on. Like digital lab rats, we now need get these habits under control so that we push the buttons out of free will, and not by stimulus.


Our experiences in meditation have taught us how wild and chaotic our stream of thoughts are, and the benefits of remaining in the present moment. How much of our thoughts are repetitive echoes of our past and speculating on our future? How do we break out from this stream of thought and live free and focused lives? After the determinism laid down in our genes and our relentless social conditioning, what’s left? Are we automated beings, or is there really free will? These age old questions never fail to fascinate us. 


This site aims to curate and debate the best of the web articles on the topic of automation with no bias in either direction. Automation is causing widespread changes to jobs and the way we live: for better or for worse we are now all enmeshed in the digital revolution. Automation can free us from repetitive tasks only if we can remain the masters of our minds and not slaves to computer code.

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