Ever met someone who becomes two different people in two different places? For example, at work they may be assertive, charismatic, and talkative but when they return home they are reserved, quiet, and contemplative. This is a simple example of how someone’s environment can impact their behaviour. So, if the environment can affect someone’s behaviour in this manner, then who’s to say it can’t impact your behaviour around technology as well?
The Oxford dictionary defines the word environment as:
“The surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates”.
No one exists in isolation. The places we go and the people we meet influence us.
Rat Park is an infamous study on the effect one’s environment has on their behaviour. In Rat Park, rats are given two options for quenching their thirst. The first option is just regular old water. The second option is water laced with drugs like cocaine or heroin. In the first experiment, the rats are place in an environment which is oppressive and disempowering. In this case, the rats uncontrollably gulp down the water laced with drugs until they die. In the second experiment, the rats are placed in an environment that is stimulating and empowering. Did the rats go after the drug laced water again? No, they didn’t. Their environment was already fulfilling all their basic needs and wants so the drug laced water didn’t have the same wow-factor as it did before. In the first case, the drugs were the only source of light in their dark world. Now, their entire world was light, so nothing more could be gained. From this, one could conclude that addiction is not only caused by the drug itself, but also by the circumstances which surround the individual taking the drug.
This evidence is convincing, but that’s just rats. What about real life? What about humans? Well, from my experience, the conclusions drawn by the Rat Park study transition into human life quite well. There are some environments and circumstances where I am simply unable to (or much less likely to) binge on my favourite apps and websites. Some of these circumstances include:
- Being in an uncomfortable setting
- Using a device which is uncomfortable for me to use
- Being at friends’ house or some other unfamiliar environment
- Being in public spaces
- Not being depressed
- Not being anxious
I discovered these exceptions by chance. Once I made the connection, I attempted to optimize for these circumstances within my life. The first problem I tackled was my depression. Learning to manage it better provided me with leaps and bounds in my recovery from my addiction. Next, I learned to manage my anxiety levels better. Finally, I changed my day to day usage habits by making it as uncomfortable or inconvenient as possible for me to abuse my devices while learning to better enjoy my time without technology.
So, from now on, I urge you to take some time to play detective in your own life. Are there any circumstances or environments where keeping your behaviour in check becomes almost effortless? If so, try to incorporate parts of those environments into your life as much as possible. It will make your road to recovery that much easier.
BONUS: A fun and informative video on the Rat Park experiment and addiction in general.