cyrenaly 7 min read

Smartphones, Social Media, and Sleep: The Invisible Dangers of Our 24/7 Culture

Psychology & Happiness

Smartphones, Social Media, and Sleep: The Invisible Dangers of Our 24/7 Culture

If there is one book to read about our addictions to work, phones, consumption, and the current state of capitalism, it’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary, a professor of Modern Art & Theory at Columbia University. Crary argues that sleep is a standing affront to capitalism and while that seems grim, it highlights the very real dark sides of always having glowing LED screens clutched in our hands.

Technology has ushered us into a 24/7 state: we live in a world that never stops producing and is infinitely connected. We have digital worlds in our pockets, and we carry our phones and screens everywhere, feeding our dopamine addictions when we’re bored or lonely, cradling us before bed with endless scrolls of news and waking us up with notifications and emails.

The barrier between work and home life has disappeared, and most professionals are able to and choose to continue working all hours of the day in an increasingly competitive, winner-take-all environment.

Read this: Why We Desperately Need to Slow Down in a Non-Stop World

Most of our time then, is either spent working or consuming (the upside of working so much is money, which is then used to consume): food, drugs, shopping, films, Youtube videos, Instagram feeds, news articles, updates from friends — even socializing-time has been reduced to a passive “Netflix & Chill”.

There are now very few significant interludes of human existence (with the colossal exception of sleep) that have not been penetrated and taken over as work time, consumption time, or marketing time.

The social-world and the work-world are both digitized, which makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two, and beyond the pop-ups and video ads, individuals have become their own marketers. Building a “personal brand” as a living is not uncommon.

It is only recently that the elaboration, the modeling of one’s personal and social identity, has been reorganized to conform to the uninterrupted operation of markets, information networks, and other systems. A 24/7 environment has the semblance of a social world, but it is actually a non-social model of machinic performance and a suspension of living that does not disclose the human cost required to sustain its effectiveness.

The average North American adult “now sleeps approximately six and a half hours a night, an erosion from eight hours a generation ago, and down from ten hours in the early twentieth century,” and what suffers most from this lack of sleep is our innate ability to dream. Most people tend to forget or don’t even think about their dreams, much less their extraordinary ability to control them. What is frightening about this is the prevalent attitude of accepting the current state of reality as it is:

The idea of technological change as quasi-autonomous, driven by some process of autopoiesis or self-organization, allows many aspects of contemporary social reality to be accepted as necessary, unalterable circumstances, akin to facts of nature. In the false placement of today’s most visible products and devices within an explanatory lineage that includes the wheel, the pointed arch, moveable type, and so forth, there is a concealment of the most important techniques invented in the last 150 years: the various systems for the management and control of human beings.

What may be the most important fact to remember: Nothing must be as it is. Here are a three ways to escape the never-ending 24/7 state:

Unplug Your Phone & Plug Into Your Imagination

Break your cell phone habit. The dopamine addiction is real. I keep my phone in a Faraday pouch, which blocks signals to my phone and keeps me to my rule of no cell phone or screen use one hour prior to sleeping and one hour after waking.

As “visual and auditory ‘content’ is most often ephemeral, interchangeable material that in addition to its commodity status, circulates to habituate and validate one’s immersion in the exigences of twenty-first-century capitalism,” it is important to focus on the power of our own imagination. The hierarchal and algorithm-driven fields of social media and newsfeeds tend to serve us things we already know or like, and keep us wanting.

Instead, we can explore the limitless field of our imagination. Write down your dreams in the morning and use them as a vehicle for self-exploration, or venture into lucid dreaming to manifest your own desires or to explore creative pursuits. And yet for most of us, when walking, during our daily commute, even sitting on the toilet or in any moment where it’s just us and our thoughts, we turn to our cell phones for comfort, to fill the silence:

One of the forms of disempowerment within 24/7 environments is the incapacitation of daydream or of any mode of absent-minded introspection that would otherwise occur in intervals of slow or vacant time.

Even when socializing with friends, it’s a common habit to check our phones again and again. I’ve found that when one person does this, it enables others:if I see someone sitting across from me at a dinner checking their Instagram feed, I’ll feel less guilty about doing the same. Make it can stop with you — turn off your phone.

Reevaluate Your Drug Habits & Addictions

Beyond digital dopamine, are you addicted to caffeine, sugar, alcohol, adderall, cocaine, Ambien, Lexapro, vicodin, etc., etc.? We live in a self-selecting society, where some drugs are perfectly acceptable as long as they are prescribed by a doctor and other drugs are deemed dangerous. I used to babysit for an eight-year-old who was fed Ritalin daily for his ADHD, and then at night, had to take a tranquilizer to help him fall asleep. He was speedballing throughout his childhood, and I’ve met others who had the same experience only to question the impact of these drugs on their personality and life-path.

There is a multiplication of the physical or psychological states for which new drugs are developed and then promoted as effective and obligatory treatments. As with digital devices and services, there is a fabrication of pseudo-necessities, or deficiencies for which new commodities are essential solutions… Over the last two decades, a growing range of emotional states have been increasingly pathologized in order to create vast new markets for previously unneeded products. The fluctuating textures of human affect and emotion that are only imprecisely suggested by the notions of shyness, anxiety, variable sexual desire, distraction, or sadness have been falsely converted into medical disorders to be targeted by hugely profitable drugs. Of the many links between the use of psychotropic drugs and communication devices, one is their parallel products of forms of social compliance.

Ritalin, adderall (and cocaine) not only make the takers compliant but fueled to tackle the 24/7 lifestyle, deadening empathy, increasing competitiveness and perhaps is linked to “destructive delusions about performance and self-aggrandizement”.

While methamphetamines are regularly fed to children, psychedelic drugs tend to be demonized as extreme and dangerous. Yet, refreshingly, there are organizations now like the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and other studies looking into how psychedelics can not only treat addictions, anxiety, and disorders, but also how psychedelics can expand consciousness and leave lasting personality changes for the better.

Find Your Passion & Connect With Real Life Communities

Crary argues that “whatever remaining pockets of everyday life are not directed toward quantitative or acquisitive ends, or cannot be adapted to telematic participation, tend to deteriorate in esteem and desirability.” Our tendency to tie our social worth to digital networks takes the saying “if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” and turns it into “if you do something fun and meaningful and don’t post it to social media, does it matter?”

But those meaningful moments in real life do matter, as does having a strong community to participate in. After all, addictions are a result mostly of isolation and bad environments:

As stated earlier: it is much easier to fold to the insidious trap of looking at your cell phone or constantly working if the person across from you does so first. Find your passion beyond the screen. Find your source of dopamine, what drives you, what engages you and makes you want to get up every day.

Read this: My Struggle With Social Media: A Diatribe on Ego and Honesty

Finding a real community centered around a meaningful activity can help tremendously. For me, rock climbing is a meditative activity that requires focus and attention, and is anchored in a community of people who are invested in your success as much as they are in their own. The nature of the sport is so individual because each person is unique; climbing is a niche that carves out time for people to participate in life without any social rules and concepts of winning over another. Climbing outdoors is a way to be connected to nature and to just hang out with friends.

I just returned from a week in New York City, the city that never sleeps, the captial of the 24/7 world, and it took me two weeks just to be able to find the time to sit down and write this. It is not easy to accept the bleak claims in Crary’s book because it would be admitting our own addictions and how we play into this non-stop state. It’s just as hard to look away from our screens, but you can. Tonight, don’t put your phone or laptop into “sleep mode” — turn them off, and pay attention to your own dreams.

Further Study:


24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep explores some of the ruinous consequences of the expanding non-stop processes of twenty-first-century capitalism. The marketplace now operates through every hour of the clock, pushing us into constant activity and eroding forms of community and political expression, damaging the fabric of everyday life.


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