We live in a highly-stressed, always-connected, pressurized-world, where being busy has become a status symbol for importance. We used to have time to enjoy our own company. Time to do nothing but think. Time to exist. Now, we must run deep into the woods to find distraction-free peace.
The inconvenience of it all…
I can blame technology, but I won’t. Technology is a just tool. A means to an end. It is up to us to decide how we use these tools. There is no denying that our advancing technology is improving our lives. But we must remember that every new technology will alienate us from some part of our current lives.
The mobile phone insulates us from our own boredom. If there is a moment to spare, we check our phones. We are afraid to miss something. Our phones give us instant gratification, relieving us from... ourselves. But each time we check our phones, we disengage from our own lives. We miss out on the most important thing that we have – the present moment.
The phone is like a modern-day slot machine. Our brains light up like we hit a jackpot each time someone messages us, likes us, or tags us. Because most of us aren’t addicted to gambling, drugs, or sex, we find it puzzling to see people suffer through these addictions. We wonder to ourselves, “Why can’t they stop?” We forget that our own blinding addiction to our phones is nearly unstoppable.
We rationalize to ourselves that we don’t want to stop using our phones, but most of us can’t stop if we tried. We must understand that there are thousands of technology companies investing millions of dollars each year to create applications that keep us addicted to our phones. Addiction equals profit. These companies study and understand human nature. If we are human, then they know what makes us tick, even if we don’t know ourselves.
We rationalize that our addiction to our phones is different, we always have a purpose when we use our phones. How else could we stay up to date on world events? Connect with people? Share what I am eating for dinner? Shop? Check the weather?
We rationalize to ourselves that even if we are addicted, it isn’t a dangerous addiction. No one is being hurt. Unfortunately, there is plenty of proof that this type of addiction is damaging our own brains. Read The Shallows by Nicolas Carr or Deep Work by Cal Newport or pay attention to your own experiences. Do you feel anxious when you sit still and do nothing? Do you check your phone first thing in the morning? Do you feel strange when you leave your house without your phone? Do you frantically search for a power outlet when the battery of your phone is low?
What is it about our phones that captivates us?
It’s our fantasy world. It’s our gateway to our friends. It’s our personal assistant. Our library. Our news anchor. Our jukebox. Our movie theatre. Our tour guide. Our professor. Our diary. Almost nothing is off limits.
We must attempt to save our own brains and curb our addiction by putting limits on ourselves…
To break our phones dependency, we can use an array of strategies:
1. Determine why you are using your phone by asking yourself questions:
- Why am I doing this?
- What am I looking for?
- What are the consequences if I put my phone down right now?
- How else can I better use my time?
- Is now the best time to check my phone?
2. Turn off all phone notifications. This is a simple but effective strategy because each time your phone rings or buzzes, you are conditioned to check your phone. Think about Pavlov’s dogs. If you fight the urge to check your phone, the more likely you will give in. Think about the white bear problem, scientifically known as the Ironic Process Theory.
3. Delete Social Media applications from your phone and use Social Media only on a computer. This should limit the amount of time you spend on Social Media. Being that humans have limited willpower, there will come a time when you desperately want to check Social Media on your phone. You can prevent this by encrypting your Social Media password and leaving the decrypting tool on your computer.
4. Delete time-wasting bookmarks and apps from your phone. When bored, you will have the tendency to cycle through your favorite webpages and apps. For example, one might refresh Facebook for a new update, then surf their favorite celebrity website. Now they go on Instagram and scroll through a listing of new pictures. Finally, they end back on Facebook to avoid missing anything “important.” Here’s a general rule of thumb, “The less convenient your phone becomes for you to use, the less likely you will use it.”
For an advance challenge, do what Aziz Ansari did - delete your Internet browser from your phone.
5. Revert to old fashion ways by replacing your phones functionality with old technology. Wearing a watch will allow you to check the time and date. Carrying a journal and pen will replace the note taking features of your phone. A regular digital camera will stop you from posting live pictures of your dinner.
To reduce your dependency on your phone, look for ways to replace phone features with less addicting resources.
6. Unsubscribe from all unwanted mailing lists. This may seem like a daunting task, but it is quite simple as most spam emails have an unsubscribe button at the bottom. By unsubscribing to unwanted email, you will have less email, which leads to less reasons to check your phone.
7. Count the number of people you see texting while walking. This is a fun little game you can play with yourself and should act as a reminder for you not to text and walk.
8. “Unbeautify” your phone. Former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs once said, “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.” While I hope most of you wouldn’t be crazy enough to lick your phones, it’s not far-fetched to think that you use your phone more often because you enjoy it. If you want to use your phone less, try making your phone uglier to look at. The best way to do this is to change your phones color scheme to greyscale. It’s like watching black and white television again. Very unsatisfying.
9. Set challenges for yourself to help with phone avoidance.
- Track the length of time you can go without reading a text message you know came in
- Track the amount of time you can keep your phone on airplane mode
- Track the number of days you can go without recharging your phone
- In a group setting, place all your phones in the center of the table, the first one to touch their phone pays the bill
- Create a specific block of phone-free time each day in your calendar
Again these are just my suggestions, you customize your own challenges for yourself.
The phone like any technology can be used for good or bad. We all have become too reliant on our phones, causing issues that we are just beginning to discover. I myself fight the allure of my phone each day. It’s not realistic to give it up entirely, nor would I attempt too. There are numerous benefits of having a phone. But I know that each day I wake up another battle has just begun. The battle to engage less with my phone and to engage more with my life.
I hope this blog at the very least brings to your awareness, that your phone isn’t your life. Life is life. Go on and live it.