Not-so-Dumb Phone

I’ve been struggling lately — like everyone else — with trying to decide whether I’m using my smartphone too often. And I realized that simply asking myself that question means the answer is a definite and resounding: yes.

I’ve started to become conscious of just how many times I pick up my phone out of habit, or find that I’ve suddenly lost 10, 20, 30 or more minutes of my day because I was sucked into a rabbit hole of Instagram scrolling or mindless web searching (I.e. If I see a car I like, it’s not uncommon to lose the next 30 minutes of my life researching it and adding it to my list of possibilities for my next purchase. Not because I should, but because I CAN).

So, I’m trying this new thing where I’m intentionally using my phone as a tool, rather than a crutch or a cure for boredom. What does that mean?

No alerts other than the most basic ones. My phone still rings when someone calls and beeps when someone texts. I still hear a chime when someone rings my doorbell (at home or at the office). But other than that, I am not letting ANY APP tell me what I should be thinking about at any given moment. 

When you think about that last sentence, you realize how maddening our phones actually make our lives (personally and professionally). You could be doing anything — having a conversation, enjoying a quiet room, working on an urgent project or even watching your favorite TV show  — but you are also holding this little machine whose sole purpose for existence is to pull you away from what you’re doing and divert your attention to something digital. Ugh.

The only apps allowed are those with a specific utilitarian purpose. Messages, Mail, Uber, Ring, PNC, just to name a few. I’m not Amish. I don’t deny that mobile devices add an insane amount of value to our lives, and I will probably never order a pizza from a place that doesn’t have an app for mobile ordering. But those are specific and valuable (valuable to me) purposes. They aren’t distractions or blatant time-wasters.

Any app that exists simply for leisurely browsing is GONE. Instagram, Facebook, CNN, Nextflix, Twitter and even Safari are the main culprits.

Yes, Safari is gone. This is the biggest step for me, but I realized how necessary it was when I found myself sneaking to facebook.com more and more often (I haven’t had the facebook app for a while, but nothing stopped me from logging in on the web!). That’s textbook addict behavior! Why do I need access to the internet at my fingertips at all times? Need to look up a restaurant’s hours? Maps has that info. Need to know the weight of the average silverback gorilla? Ask Siri. Any urgent information you need from your phone can likely be accessed through an app or feature made specifically for that thing.

For me, having Safari was just an open door to allowing myself to follow any meaningly train of thought that popped into my head. So now, instead of the immediate gratification of looking things up on my phone, I do two things: 1. Decide if it’s important 2. If it is, I’ll set a reminder for when I get home — or when I know I’ll be at a computer — to look it up then.

Other than music and audiobooks, there’s no entertainment allowed on my phone. Another thing I found was that it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to do anything mundane — wash dishes, fold laundry, cook dinner, mow the lawn, clean the house — without having some sort of media stimulation. Seriously, I am extremely uncomfortable if I have to fold my laundry without also watching an episode of The Office.

Not that folding laundry really deserves my full and undivided attention — it’s boring and mindless. But I have unintentionally been training my brain that it needs CONSTANT entertainment or stimulation. That’s the addicting part and the reason for the ditching of the media.

We judge kids who spend hours playing video games in their rooms — saying mean things and forcing them to go outside. But are we any different? Just because we can take our entertainment hub outside with us, what’s the real difference? A kid is playing a video game because he wants to shut out his surroundings and jump into a virtual experience. We do the EXACT same thing with our phones — except instead of killing fake zombies, we are trolling real people with passive aggressive comments on their selfies.

 

What all of this adds up to is the fact that I am trying to be more in control of the role my phone (and technology overall) plays in my life. After all, it’s just a stupid little chunk of plastic and glass.

 

Bonus: Here’s a side tangent about my thoughts on Social Media

Social media (this applies to the phone and the computer) shouldn’t be a source of entertainment interchangable with Netflix or imgur.

Most of us use Facebook (or Instagram, or Twitter, or whatever) as a source of entertainment — and NOT as a way to build and foster relationships (I.e. be social). I’ve been totally guilty of it — I scroll through Facebook not because I have a genuine interest or curiosity about what a particular friend is up to, but rather because I’m bored. I’m bored and Facebook has funny things. Funny things posted by my 7th-grade math teacher who I haven’t spoken to in 25 years, but for some reason, I’ve decided to let them add things to my daily dose of entertainment. I have no real-world relationship with that teacher, and never will. But because the barrier for friendship is so incredibly low, I now have one more source of entertainment.

Be honest here: How many relationships do you have that are BETTER because Facebook is a part of them? I’d guess the answer is 0. Why? Because Facebook allows you to detach from people, “stay in the loop” by following their newsfeeds. Which means we can collect “friends” — where our only obligation is to look at their pictures and profiles online, rather than putting forth the energy of seeing each other in person or having a conversation. “I keep track of what you’re up to on Facebook… it’s like we’re still friends!”

All social media platforms CAN be powerful tools for supplementing healthy relationships — they provide quick and easy communication, idea sharing, etc. — but the keyword is “supplementing.” Too often, we are using Facebook as our primary (or sole) relationship “hub”. That is, if the relationship didn’t exist on Facebook, it wouldn’t exist at all.

Why Create a Personal Website?

I decided, like a lot of people way smarter than I am, that I’m not totally loving the firm, unrelenting grip that social media has on our lives. Not only is it an addicting form of entertainment that essentially turns our friends’ newsfeeds into sitcoms (or more often: dramas), it’s also a risky concept to essentially download your life — and all the data that comes with it — into a rented platform.

I’m no conspiracy theorist or hermit, and I’m not quitting social media. But I’m hoping to have a “hub” of my own, where I can share whatever I want without any of the crappy stuff that comes along with living in social media 24 hours per day.