How Smartphones Affect Our Lives

Do you remember being a child and living the life void of smartphones? Remember how different life was? Many people think of those times with nostalgia, but convinced that it is anything but possible to have that kind of freedom in the modern world. We are bound to our phones by some contract we never signed but that nevertheless exists. It feels like a job that doesn’t pay or that some of us didn’t even want. We “have to” check messages, email, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, etc. and make sure no notification goes unnoticed! Because it would be rude not to answer someone’s “You look amazing!” comment on Instagram, right? I used to think that for a long time and when I tried to ignore my phone, it’d seep its fangs of guilt into me until I succumbed. But think about the old times. When there was no sms, people called each other if they wanted to talk. If no one was home or no one could/want to answer the phone they didn’t. So why do we let others intrude into our personal time any minute of the day now, no matter where we are and what we do? Why do we give the right to anyone and everyone to access us 24/7?

I think a big part of our emotional bond with a cellphone is physical. Just think about it, it is literally attached to our bodies at all times and it makes us feel entwined with it, as if it was truly a part of us. It feels so personal, the way a landline phone never did. In reality, however, for most people only a small fraction of cellphone activity is truly personal. For example, a text message is a less intrusive and less direct way of communicating than a phone call. A comment on instagram is even less direct, like when you run into someone on the street and say “Oh hey! What’s up?”, and then keep walking your way.

I did an experiment and stopped using my phone on Saturdays. At first it felt strange and I kept reaching into my pocket every 10 minutes but eventually got used to not having it, and a profound change came over me. I found that I am more creative and more productive when I don’t have my phone on me because I have more time to think and more time to do instead of just consuming never ending content of information that’s being fed to us at a speed that no human can process and stay sane. When I go for walks I can blank out my mind and get out of my head and actually notice my surroundings and appreciate them instead of considering how it would look on instagram if I took a photo of it right now. My interactions with people became more real because I am more focused and connected. I make eye contact with strangers and look around when I walk rather than blankly staring ahead. I started feeling more present. But most importantly, it took away a large chunk of anxiety that comes from constant unexpected and sometimes unwanted disruption of a thought flow or an activity.

How to break the physical and emotional bond with your phone? Assuming you’d like to? First of all, it makes a huge difference to leave your phone in a different room if you want to have time off. This will break real physical contact and therefore a part of emotional attachment. I keep mine in another room when I sleep and I use a real alarm clock so that I am not tempted to check my phone first thing in the morning. I also use a small storage container to keep it in during the day that I place on top of the fridge with a lid closed. It sounds silly but it works if you struggle with addiction to check your phone 150 times a day (which is how often on average people check their cellphone per day). I turned off all the notifications so my phone doesn’t make sounds when someone messages me and notifications don’t pop up on the screen. I will only know that someone messaged me if I actually open the messaging app and I do that when I choose to, not when someone else chooses (that may explain why I don’t have too many friends. But I love the ones I do have!) I also keep my phone on Do Not Disturb mode during the day so I can focus on whatever I’m doing without continuous disruptions. Do Not Disturb mode allows calls from my favorite contacts to go through but from no one else (you can tweak your own settings). I also deleted all of social media apps. I do have instagram on my iPad, but I don’t keep my iPad around me all the time and it’s not as tempting to get up and go to another room to check a giant iPad as it is to check my phone, so I do it less often.

What do people think if I don’t answer right the way? Honestly, I’ve no idea. I found that my friends still talk to me, and they don’t seem to be offended at the slightest. In fact, I was sure they’d think I lost my marbles, but I was pleasantly surprised that they got excited at the idea and some even tried it themselves.

I still have to force myself every day to put my phone away on top of the fridge and close the container lid so I am not tempted to check it continuously throughout the day and have it interrupt my workflow, my focus, my conversations with real people, and my thoughts. I still don’t use my phone on Saturdays and I realize now how much I was missing. I was missing real life and real profound peace.

Because we’ve had smartphones for so many years we forgot what it felt like not to have it. I remembered that feeling, and it’s priceless. I hope you can remember too.

Thanks for reading,

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Natasha Pea