Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Candy Crush Detox

Candy Crush Detox Delete seemed to be the only way for me. I confess that when I first wrote about Candy Crush Addiction on March 25, I had only played the game for a couple of days. I claimed quite truthfully that it was for research because it was. It is now April 15, and after reaching Level 95 on the original game, and Level 45 in Dreamland, I deleted the App from my iPhone. I had become obsessed, addicted, lost in the game too many times, though I didn’t delete it from my Facebook account initially because if I did that I would lose my entire account. If I decided to play again, I would have to start over.

I knew I was really addicted last night when I woke up around 1:30 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I blamed it on the full moon, and the intense energy I felt circling around me, but was that really the truth? I decided to go downstairs and get my computer to play a couple of games of Candy Crush. What could it hurt? It hurt. At 3:45 a.m., when the moon was at its fullest, I was still playing. A true addict. At that point I deleted the game from my Facebook account, thus it is gone. I suppose this is like giving up drinking or gambling when one decides it’s time. There isn’t a Candy Crush-aholics Anonymous yet, but there is Internet Gamers Anonymous, which falls into this category. Clearly I am not the only one suffering from this affliction.

That is not to say we are all addicted. There are non-addicted players who actually find some positive aspects to the game. My good friend Patty has been playing it for three years because it helps her fall asleep. She plays until she runs out of lives and sometimes she even falls asleep while playing. When she gets stuck on a level too long, she stops playing for a week or a month. I, on the other hand, get completely wound up by the game at night and play longer because I am no longer tired.  Leslie, another friend, is the one who inspired me to go cold turkey. When she realized that throughout her day she spent more time on Candy Crush then work, her family and other things that were important to her, she deleted it. She is 40 days Crush free.

My first blog entry on Candy Crush was prompted by the IPO that did not do very well, given the fact Wall Street saw it as more of one hit wonder. I relayed the astounding statistics of this phenomenon. Over 500 million people downloaded it last year, and play more than 1 billion times a day. In addition, the company makes roughly $900,000 a day on the game, and an astounding 493 million in 2013. At the time I had not experienced the addictive qualities of the game first hand. Now that I have, the research is compelling to me, as well as the suggestions for treatment. As I said I took the abstinence route this morning, but it remains to be seen if I can stick to my conviction.

In an article Candy Crush Addicts Come Clean, the statement, “To be an addict, by definition, is to habituate to something compulsively or obsessively?" There are other types of media addictions including television where one may begin to watch an entire season of a show in an addictive fashion by watching one after another into the wee hours of the night. This can be thought to be synonymous with the way we play just one more game of Candy Crush, only to be lured into another and another until we’ve spent 2 hours pushing candies around on a digital screen. I speak from experience on both of these. I admit to watching Mad Men in sessions of multiple episodes, but not the four seasons of Downton Abbey. I was able to pace myself to no more than one a day, and I succeeded. I wanted to relish every moment of the series. With this success one might think I would be able to do it with Candy Crush, but I admit in the 21 days I played the game the length of time I played and the intensity of neglected tasks increased. I suppose this could also have something to do with the dopamine hit that comes from the congratulatory sounds and music as well as the exclamations of excitement with the words, “Super Crush!”

One of the distressing statements by some programmers of the game was their desire to create addiction, “There’s an intriguing possibility that may appeal to Candy Crush addicts. Can we profit from the millions of hours humans spend solving Candy Crush problems?” These same programmers are creating a problem that will be examined in another blog entry which is about the danger of pedestrians walking and texting, emailing, and playing Candy Crush. Have you ever walked down the street, texting or playing Candy Crush, only to bump into people or things with an embarrassed, "Excuse me." I have, but again I'm not the only one. Research on the dangers of texting and walking is an addendum to texting and driving.

So how does one counteract this addiction similar to other Internet, digital device, and iPhone addictions. It begins with mindful awareness that there is a problem, but even though some people realize this, it doesn’t mean that they can stop. Given the statement by some of the programmers, it’s no wonder that people cannot stop, for it is one of the intents of the game to keep people playing and spending money when they run out of lives or need to buy boosters or more moves. It is a very sneaky way to lure people into spending their money.

Some tweets reveal humorous, and not so humorous, confessions on Twitter: “I refuse to be a slave to you! #CandyCrush,”  “I never had heroin, but I assume it has a similar effect to Candy Crush Saga,” “I think my Candy Crush addiction is curing my Facebook Addiction,” and “Finally submitted my grades, I can now go back to playing Candy Crush.” Keeping names anonymous there are some teachers at my daughter’s school who are on levels in the 500s. I’m sure they only play after their schoolwork is done. I hope we can say that about students who play the game, for there are many.

If awareness doesn’t work, then there are boundaries one’s spouse, family or friends can put on them. Just like screen free zones at dinner, at a restaurant, and other socializing times, this needs to include Candy Crush. There are other times when it is a time sink hole keeping people from doing necessary things like work, car pool pick ups, and spending time outdoors, to name a few. The most emphatic continues to advise, “Life really is too short for sliding candies around. DELETE, MOVE ON, spend your time on something else!”

Wish me luck in staying on the Candy Crush wagon, and my one piece of advise is don’t download the App! Don’t play on someone else’s phone or computer! Find mindful alternatives like walking in the woods, gardening, cooking, or reading. With reading, I mean a "real" magazine, newspaper or book. The screen could be too tempting for it holds the key to the addiction as well. Only one step away from the download. This is my advise to myself as well.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Present Moment?

What is it about uncomfortable feelings that cause us to run away from them and grab something else. A cookie or Facebook. Another potato chip out of the bag or the iPhone, searching for some type of notification. Is it the dopamine hit or the fact that technology has become a panacea for boredom, sadness, or frustration. 

One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it helps us stay with our present experience, no matter what it is, and be with it. More and more people tend to "run away" from these feelings or experiences with some type of distraction. When the tendency to escape becomes extreme, it can be said to be an addiction. Food, alcohol, shopping, television are all options for the person who wants to leave the present moment, consciously, but more often than not unconsciously. One of the benefits of a formal meditation "practice" is we practice being with these experiences when they arise, and because we are practicing meditation, we cannot run away from them with another activity. We can follow thoughts out of the present moment, but the meditation practice is to come back to the breath when we notice we are not in the present moment.

How does this apply to technology? One of the ways we move away from the present moment is to unconsciously check our phone, find ourselves on Facebook, check email frequently or open the Candy Crush app. I speak from personal experience, but I also know that this is a common practice for teenagers who are often distracted from schoolwork, walking and talking with the friends they are with, and lying in bed texting when ideally they would be sleeping. Social media and digital devices have become a new addiction, a method for leaving the present moment.

So the question becomes... What do we do?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

ThinkGive and Yoga Reaches Out

This blog on mindfulness and technology is called Mindful Media Musings because it combines my own personal experience, research and its application to youth culture, but I am not writing formal essays or articles. Rather I am relaying the research from the experts as I ponder and question these issues. One of the reasons I'm writing this blog is because I think the fast pace of technology is creating a distracted and less mindful youth culture. I began this endeavor as I watched and became aware of my own technology use, the times I was using it productively, efficiently and purposefully, and the times I was not.

It was an interesting progression as I began to change my patterns in the mornings. I used to wake up and grab my iPhone before completely opening my eyes. I would begin to read emails, texts, Facebook, and whatever else caught my eye before I was even consciously awake. I've tried to change this behavior, sometimes more successfully than others.  Instead of grabbing my phone, I committed to writing a gratitude list and meditating for 10 minutes. As I wrote my gratitude list day after day, I realized I wanted to do something with that gratitude, so our ThinkGive project has been wonderful! ThinkGive’s mission is to inspire young people to make giving a way of life. For 21 days kids give something away that does not necessarily mean an item or money. Instead, it is an act of kindness. It could be a compliment, a helping hand, appreciation, or love. I am participating in ThinkGive as a parent, and it has been a wonderful experience thus far. Gratitude to Kindness to Giving seems to be an inherently natural progression.

In the last two days the gifts I've chosen have really chosen me. They have been about Yoga Reaches Out, an organization and event to raise money for Children's Hospital and Citizens Schools, through a day of yoga. I am SO grateful for yoga every day of my life. I'm training to be a teacher with Rolf Gates, an Internationally known master teacher, and he is also the lead presenter at the event Yoga Reaches Out at Gillette Stadium on April 27. It's my Yoga Marathon, and I'm thrilled to be able to participate.

I signed up to be part of this team several weeks ago, but I chose to write my fundraising letter yesterday, so that when the question from ThinkGive yesterday was about doing something for the community, I had instinctively already chosen it. It was a wonderful feeling to write this letter because I am truly combining my passion and belief in yoga for a greater service. Likewise, when the question from ThinkGive today was about receiving a gift, one of my greatest gifts has been receiving donations for my contribution to Yoga Reaches Out.

This is a very long winded way of tying together the work that I'm doing with technology, recognizing the distracting aspects of it, or ways it takes us from conscious gratitude, kindness and giving. By consciously choosing to start my day by writing a gratitude list rather than unconsciously beginning my day with my iPhone, I began to reap the benefits of other gifts including the desire to be kind and give, which in turn seems to have given me the opportunities to do so in an almost synchronistic way. The ThinkGive Project and Yoga Reaches Out both seemingly fell in my lap at the same time, and I couldn’t be happier participating in both.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Can We Be Mindful Without Meditation?

I am currently training to be a yoga teacher with Rolf Gates, a phenomenal yoga teacher who has a fabulous practice with a large following of teachers he has trained. He also has a group of readers who have learned from his book Meditations from the Mat. In his book, Rolf teaches the different principles of yoga through a focused intention and lesson for each day. He is currently writing a book on meditation practices, which has raised an interesting issue between us.

Rolf and I have an ongoing dialogue about mindfulness, and he frequently challenges me with the following question, “Can you really have mindfulness without a formal meditation practice?” In my mind, especially in light of my research on technology and mindfulness, the question becomes: Can we really counteract some of the distracting consequences of the digital age without following a formal training of meditation that includes an intentional practice, a time and space for meditating? Can we be mindful without learning this formal practice?

My initial response is yes, I do think we can be more mindful without a formal practice. Is it ideal? Probably not, but it’s a start. To some, the thought of meditating feels too foreign a concept, too hard to do in the busy-ness of their lives, but the suggestion to be aware of one’s thoughts and actions seems more palatable. In a current article on mindfulness the thought that if we can teach people “to keep their attention focused on whatever they’re doing at the present moment, whether it’s eating, exercising or even working,” we can say that they have moved into mindfulness. Usually, this starts with formal meditation, but to some the thought of sitting down to meditate for a prescribed amount of time causes them to negate the entire notion completely. I often hear people say, “I tried, but it wasn’t for me,” or “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t settle down; I’m too restless,” These same people might have a different attitude if they were simply asked to just be aware of themselves, to watch their minds as they talk to a friend, walk down the street, or work on the computer.  I don’t disagree with Rolf that formal meditation practice is most likely the preferred method for living in the present moment, but I think we can start where we are and go from there.

As I write this, I realize that perhaps a differentiation between formal meditation practice and informal mindfulness is needed. My fear, if we say we can only be mindful if we have a meditation practice is we’ll lose the people who may need awareness and focus the most, the teenagers whose lives involve more distractions and opportunities to be unmindful through the very nature of their interactions with technology.

It is much more effective to ask a teen about her technology use, rather than tell her she uses it too much. The first step, as in any parenting technique, is to ask questions. When we ask teens to simply watch themselves when they check their iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, rather than stating they use it too much, we’re creating an opportunity for presence, focus and self-knowledge. Once there is an understanding that we can live in more present moment awareness, and that presence becomes desirable, then there may be more of an opening for a formal meditation practice to enhance and further this state. When it comes to technology, though, once someone realizes they may overuse technology, or perhaps be addicted to it, there is an opportunity for change, but the awareness is essential.

To Be Continued…

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mindful Technology Integration

As Concord moves toward a one student one device ratio, students, teachers and parents will need guidelines and strategies to harness the best aspects of technology, while minimizing the more unhealthy and distracting ones. 

I was the first Academic Director for Technology at The Fenn School in 1997 when many schools were just beginning to integrate technology into the classroom. I recall using social studies CD-Roms to augment my unit on the Oregon Trail and learning about the rich resources for curriculum development on the new frontier of the World Wide Web. My original research included Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital and Don Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital where there was as much enthusiasm in the promise of technology as well as warnings of the dangers and peril of it. As I drafted the first Technology Plan for Fenn, I realized that the complexities of the task in front of schools was only going to become more intense as the exponential rate of change in these technologies increased.

Fast forward 17 years and it has. Today the research continues to reveal similar promises and perils. The Concord Public Schools has a unified Technology Plan that continues to prepare Concord students for the digital world they will encounter post secondary school, both in college and the work force. With the increase in the digital devices and software, I believe the teachers will need continuous support and training on how to integrate this ever-changing technology. Learning must drive what technologies are incorporated rather than which devices to provide. Teachers need enough development time to learn not only how to utilize the technology themselves, but also new curriculum to make the inclusion appropriate.

Students face certain types of educational challenges if they are not trained to use it in productive and focused manners. In a recent article, Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus, it states, “The ubiquity of digital technology in all realms of life isn’t going away, but if students don’t learn how to concentrate and shut out distractions, research shows they’ll have a much harder time succeeding in almost every area.” Other research states that more rote curriculum may encourage students to go off task, attempting to unsuccessfully multi-task with their digital devices and the actual teaching in the classroom. Many say this multi-tasking is a myth for instead there is rapid task switching the distracts the students’ focus on learning tasks.

One research study states that as many as 50% of teens check their iPhones over 150 times a day, and just as many get less sleep than they need because they are computing late into the night. Both of these contribute to difficulty synthesizing and memorizing important material.

As Concord moves toward a one-student one device ratio, students, teachers and parents will need guidelines and strategies to harness the best aspects of this technology, while minimizing the more unhealthy and distracting ones. One option is a curriculum that integrates technology use into actual teaching on focus and mindfulness. If students are inspired and motivated to succeed in school, they may be just as inspired to learn how to moderate their technology use both in the classroom and when completing homework and studying. The more students who become aware of their distractibility and overuse of technology, the more they may be open to and desire mindfulness training to do just this.