It’s an odd but distinctly American impulse to acknowledge the unhealthy effects of recreational screen use but to embrace constant interaction with screens as a fixture of the modern workplace. After all, one of our most ingrained cultural principles as Americans is that work can, and ideally should, be pleasurable and satisfying. For many of us, that equates to an expectation of feeling rewarded and fulfilled by a long day of typing out messages and staring at pixels.
Which leads us to wonder: is training ourselves to feel satisfaction from workplace screen interaction just as potentially unhealthy as seeking reward and stimulation through on-screen porn, games, or social media? At the very least, is it possible one activity reinforces the other, and vice-versa?
Of course, few people achieve true fulfillment at work. Many of us find the hours we spend earning a living in front of a screen exhausting and mind-numbing. And yet, we go back to work, day-in, day-out, because we know we have to for our own economic survival, at the very least. We all have bills to pay. Working with screens is what most of us must do, and if we can find even a modicum of satisfaction in it, too, then we’ll count ourselves lucky.
And so, at work we unconsciously train ourselves to find, if not necessarily happiness or stimulation, at least a sense of achievement and relief, from pressing “send” on an email, filling out an order screen, or scrolling through columns of numbers. Hitting a button or checking a box means we’ve completed a task. We’ve done what we needed to do to earn, maintain, and survive. Click click click, job done, mission accomplished, pressure from the boss temporarily relieved.
Is it any wonder, then, that even in our off hours, we scroll, click, and text as if our lives depended on it? It’s not just that designers engineer porn, games, and social media to attract and hold our attention. Those features are effective, to be sure. But we suspect we also make ourselves susceptible to problematic use of porn, games, and social media by cultivating a relationship with screens at work in which we associate specific screen interactions like scrolling and clicking with accomplishing tasks and relieving stress.
From personal experience, we can remember feeling like there was a feedback loop between at-work productivity and at-home porn use. The job functions we performed during the day, and the cycle of feeling and relieving tension by engaging in tasks on-screen, felt similar to (albeit somewhat less intense than) searching for and clicking on page after page of porn content. It was as if the previous night’s porn use was the proverbial shot, and the next days’s at-work screen time was the chaser.
Screens aren’t going to disappear from the workplace. But, it may be possible to develop boundaries with our use of tech during the day that could translate into safer use at home. For some of us, that may entail adjusting our perspective of why we use a screen to begin with, and being mindful of only engaging with a screen for a well-defined purpose. Instead of falling in love with swinging a hammer, in other words, some of us may need to re-learn how to take satisfaction in having driven the nail.
Longer-form writing from the PornHelp team on current topics relating to problem porn use and recovery.