The New Cigarette

Dear Reader,

I was recently having a really interesting conversation with Nir Eyal, the American author, lecturer and investor about how cell phone usage has taken control of social settings.


Nir is somewhat of an expert on this topic as he was named “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology” by the M.I.T. Tech Review, and his work has been featured in TechCrunch, the Harvard Business Review, and Psychology Today.


Nir Eyal’s first book, the New York Times best-seller Hooked, reveals the psychology that builds habit-forming products, and his new book Indistractable – How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, explores the psychology driving us to distraction, and why solving the problem is not as simple as disowning our devices.

Click here to see NIR EYAL

Nir gave me an analogy about cell phone usage which I thought was really spot on. When Nir was growing up in the 80s his parents kept ashtrays around their house. However, neither his dad or his mom were current smokers. 


Why Did They Do This? 


They did this because back in the 80s if you came over to someone’s house, you expected to be able to light up a cigarette in their living room. If someone came over and you told them, “please don’t smoke here,” you would be seen as the parriah. 


Now, in 2020, the thought of someone coming over and just starting to smoke in the middle of your living room seems absurd, and you have to wonder, “how did this change happen?” 


What changed is what Nir calls a “social antibody” which means that when societies see a behavior that does not benefit society, they change their norms regarding what is acceptable. 


In today’s society, the old cigarette behavior has found its new home with cell phones. We have begun using phones in social settings as casually as cigarette usage used to be. Nir sees this as a huge problem with society that needs to be changed.


To make this change happen you have to work to become “indistractable” so that a few years down the line we change cell phone usage the same way cigarette usage was changed. 


I am all for championing this change and spreading these “social antibodies” to end the casual phone usage. I love when I can be part of a group that stacks their phones at dinner so that no one can be on their phone during the meal. To be honest, I do get offended when I am spending time with someone and they pull their phone out because it seems like they don’t value my time.


I tend to say something to the person, and Nir gave me a great tip for how to politely spread “social antibodies” and call out people on their phone. Being too direct can offend people, and you don’t ever know exactly what’s on the other side of the screen. Maybe it is a real emergency or huge problem someone has to attend to. Therefore, Nir explained that the best question you can ask when you notice someone pull out their phone is, “I see you are on your phone. Is everything okay?” This gives the phone user the chance to excuse themselves and deal with the problem at hand, or gives them a polite nug to put the phone away and be present in the moment. 




Just like smoking cigarettes had lasting long term health detriments, the increase of cell phone use, specifically texting, also comes with its own set of dangers. 


We do it all the time, we may be walking down the street and think of an email you have to respond to or a weather report you need to check or you hear the chime of a text comes in, and you pull your phone out while you continue to walk. 


This kind of distracted walking now has an actual term: “twalking.” This new phenomenon has even begun to spark conversations with lawmakers about making twalking illegal. 


The research into distracted walking is relatively new and there have only been a few studies to show the consequences of this type of behavior. Additionally, some studies have conflicting results. For example, New York City’s Transportation Department released a study which found little concrete evidence linking distracted walking to pedestrian injuries or fatalities. 


However, The National Safety Council published a study conducted by the University of Maryland that found between 2000 and 2011 there were hundreds of emergency room visits related to phone usage while walking, the biggest reason for visit being falling while walking because of phone usage. 


Even though it is clear that more research needs to be done, it is also obvious that walking while distracted is objectively less safe that walking while aware of your surroundings. 


Ken Kolosh, a manager of statistics at the National Safety Council stated, “When you’re busy doing secondary tasks like texting, you don’t judge gap distances in traffic as well, you walk slower, you make poor decisions, and you’re not aware of your surroundings.”


If you feel like you are someone who has problems limiting their tech use, try to implement some of these tips from experts: 

  • Keep your phone in a bag rather than a pocket so it is less accessible to you on the go. 
  • Stop walking and find a safe place to stand if you absolutely must check your phone while walking.
  • If you are listening to something in your headphones, keep the volume low.
  • Switch off the notifications for apps that are not crucial to your everyday life.
  • Turn on the “do not disturb” function on your phone while walking.
  • Consider deleting apps that are time wasters. 


These are small easy steps we can all take to make ourselves safer, more aware of our surroundings, and more present in our everyday lives. 


Which tactic will you try out today? 


Brian Rose

Brian Rose
Editor, Brian Rose Uncensored

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Brian Rose

Brian Rose is an MIT graduate, with a degree in engineering. Upon finishing school, he immediately began working on Wall Street. An advanced technical trader, Brian was trading a book of $100 million at the age of 22. He spent years on Wall Street, working in New York, Chicago and London. He made millions, but...

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