The Ari Gold Syndrome: Can Smartphones Make You Stupid?

Using smartphones wisely

Posted Oct 04, 2011

Ari Gold on HBO's Entourage

Ari Gold was the character played by Emmy Award winner, Jeremy Piven, on the HBO hit show, Entourage. As a high-strung, overachieving, successful entertainment mogul, his every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moments were dictated by his smartphone.  No matter what he was doing, he could not resist the urge to answer the device's beckoning call. 

You may not be as addicted as Ari, but do you have trouble going "off the grid" to the point that you sometimes damage your relationships? Do you know someone who has this problem? Many successful people feel totally tethered to their smartphones at the risk of alienating people that they care about.

If you want to step back from being constantly drawn to your iPhone or blackberry, or want to help someone who has this problem, try some of the things below.

Step 1:  Self-awareness

Separate psychological dependence from actual business or social need. Do a self-assessment and answer the following questions:

  1. What do I use my smartphone for?  Email? Text? Facebook? Twitter other social media? News? Games?  Which of those are most necessary? Which ones should I do less of?
  2. What do my contacts expect from me in terms of immediacy of reply?  Are those demands realistic?  Can I manage their expectations of an immediate reply?
  3. Am I a victim of The Ari Gold Syndrome? Does being constantly wired impact my personal relationships?
  4. Do I interrupt my conversations with smartphone messages/calls?
  5. Does my time on my smartphone keep me from being with people?
  6. If my smartphone impacts my life in a negative way, do I want to change my patterns? If yes, then move to step 2.

Step 2:  Smartphone Management

If you're like many electronically dependent people, checking your smartphone has become automatic and unconscious. It has become part of your procedural memory.  It's like brushing your teeth or driving a car.  You really don't think about it. You just do it. You hear the chime.  You sense the vibration. Then, whoosh! You're sucked into the cyberspace black hole. You find something that is really interesting, or a crisis that you feel like you need to deal with immediately and you're lost in cyberspace. If we let ourselves, we can spread our attention so thin with multitasking, that we overwhelm our ability to focus on important cues coming from family members or co-workers, or we fail to remember important events, thus causing collateral damage to important relationships.

In her article, "The Myth of Multitasking," published in The New Atlantis, Christine Rosen summarizes research that shows that our brains are not capable of multitasking higher-level tasks while texting and conversing or while driving and simultaneously talking on a cell phone. Performance and memory are significantly reduced when someone is multitasking.

If you want to be less dependent on your smartphone, here are some strategies:

  1. Use your smartphone consciously.  Be aware of taking it out of your pocket, purse or off your desk.
  2. Try putting the smartphone out of reach and on mute, while you do something else.
  3. Don't engage in "symptom substitution" by doing the smartphone things with your computer.
  4. Do you have an iPad?  Put it away too when you need to be "present" with others.
  5. Exercise more and do things in nature (without your gadgets) as a way of cleansing the cyber fog from your system.  Those activities are closer to our natural human physiology than the multitasking, crisis-driven, mental states that we often keep ourselves in. 
  6. Don't drive your family crazy. 

Withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Salivating when you hear the same ringtone as your smartphone.
  • Obsessing about having a car malfunction and not being able to call a tow truck.
  • Having a panic attack when you feel that the familiar rectangle in your pocket or purse is not there. 
  • Constantly channel surfing and fiddling too much with the TV remote.

The best cure for smartphone dependency is taking an unwired vacation without ADDs (Attention Distraction Devices). That's ultimately what Ari Gold did in the final episode of Entourage.

More tips on smartphone use and listening can be found in my previous post, "Put That iPhone Down, I'm Talking to You!"



About the Author

David Swink is Chief Creative Officer of Strategic Interactions, Inc., based in Fairfax, Virginia.

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