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Paula Poundstone Extra: Technology Addiction (Is No Joke)

Paula Poundstone

WEB EXTRA: This is an excerpt of a conversation between WHQR's Gina Gambony and comedian/author Paula Poundstone regarding technology. Paula Poundstone is performing at the Wilson Center on Friday, February 10th at 8:00pm. 

PP: It makes people isolated. It makes people-you know, myself included. I use it, I use goofy stupid Twitter. I tried, I saw a thing the other day. There was an interview on The News Hour with this guy who used to work at Google and it was really fascinating about the different techniques they use to just plain keep you on your phone. Not neccessarily talking to anybody, but just staring at the screen.


GG: Interacting with the phone, so the phone can learn more about you.


PP: For one goal only. And it's not surprising. And that goal is greed. So they can sell you more things.


GG: Exactly.


PP: You're staring at a platform of advertising. You know if anybody ever said to themselves you know “I'm you to go to this billboard down the street just stare at it all day long or as many times as I possibly can,” well this would be an absurd notion. But that's sort of what we're doing. We're sort of like you know yes are you doing something else with it? Yes but the truth is the reason it's there the sole reason it's there is to sell you stuff and to find out what stuff you would buy if they could possibly trick you into it to buying. So I've tried what I think the Google guy said people on average, on average, check their phone 150 times a day. So I wasn't at 150 times today anyways but probably you know if I was including my computer screen probably damn near. So I'm trying to try to cut back you know and do some thinking every so often. I'll tell you it's exhausting.


GG: You know I'm pretty good about not... I don't have Facebook on my phone, I have no social media stuff on my phone. So that helps.

PP: One of the things the guy was recommending, was not going as far as that which I think is really great idea. but not having on the first screen that comes up on your phone, not having, you know, not having anything like that. So you at least have to take a couple of steps to get to this unnecessary app. You know I mean the truth is none of it's necessary and it's destroying our brains. I swear to God yesterday, I was very conscious of not using my phone as much. Not using a screen at all as much. And by the end of the day I was so worn out, I was cranky like a two year old. I was totally exhausted. I felt hopeless.

GG: You you need to walk through that though, you can get to the other side of that.

PP: I know that I can, I really believe that I can, but it's not exactly as scientifically an experiment, but I feel it's damn near proof positive that-


GG: You're addicted.


PP: Oh yeah. Surely I'm addicted. But actual thinking, you know, is not what's going on when I'm when I'm spending time on screens because, you know, thinking- you know people that play chess, that really really play chess, you can lose weight while playing chess. Actually using your brain is highly energetic activity. I'm not sure that I engage in it all that often.

GG: So you've got-speaking of like- about your brain and you said about you know, happiness- because this stuff doesn't make us happy. I mean I'm sure of that.

PP: In fact, there are studies that say again prove quite unequivocally that it makes us unhappy. On Facebook in particular they say it depresses people. And what's funny is I think a lot of people know that research, and they know that in themselves also they've experienced it, and they still can't stop.

GG: Yeah, but that's just like anything, that's like so many other addictions too...somehow we're surprised, because we're not actually swallowing it.

PP: I mean I was a drinker and I can tell you that I you know that- not even a fancy drinker. I drink one at a time wines often, you know, twist top. Not even you know, not even-nothing that even looked good, for heaven's sakes. But I can tell you that after every bad experience I would have, I would say to myself you know that the next day, well I just did it wrong. Today it will be different.

GG: Right. And that's the cycle.


PP: That is just plain an addict thought no matter what it is you're using. My manager then I got an idea about this one time because she's a big addict with electronics. And I sort of accused her of that at one point and she got very defensive and she said, I am not addicted to it, I just like it. And I said wait a minute. No no no no no. You know, I like to play ping pong. I like to tap dance. You know, I like to practice the drums. I have never tried to do any one of those things in the car in such a way as that the cops couldn't see. Because those are things that I like to do and that's very different from something that I'm addicted to.

GG: Where you actually know, OK this is dangerous, but I'm in control. A thought like “oh I'm in control” right.

PP: Yes. And somehow, I somehow, at that point in my life, I am the exception to the rule, even the rule that I've already established in my own life. Like OK this is going badly for me how many times now? But this experience, this one that I'm about to do right now, will be the exception to the rule. It's very very addictive thinking. It's so cruel, though, that these companies, they know that, they're well aware of that, that is their point. That is what they're trying to do. They're trying- they use a lot of one arm bandit science.


GG: What does that mean?


PP: Slot machines. Slot machines have a lot of addictive techniques in the engineering of them that keep people, you know--- there are people who play slot machines that will wear diapers.

GG: Oh yes, I've heard of this.

PP: So that they don't have to leave the machine. In fact, I've not heard of an adult doing it, I have heard of teenage kids wearing diapers so they don't have to stop gaming.

GG: Yeah. OK. Now since you're talking about the downfall of humanity, and basically the overall misery that everyone is facing and possibly already swimming in, tell me about your book about happiness....

Visit WHQR.org to hear more from Paula Poundstone, including information about her book The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Happiness.