Do you NEED your phone?

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

On the brink of extinction

Today I met a member of the most endangered species on the planet: a human being who has never owned a mobile phone.

I’m on board with using phones less, and getting as far out of the Facebook ecosystem as possible, but the idea of not owning a phone is challenging.

It would be one thing if he were an off-grid type living in a wind powered yurt. Or the denizen of some remote ethnic group as yet untainted by NatGeo. They might get away with phoneless-ness but how does a family man with a 
9-to-5 manage?

Mapping memory lane

To surmise, I have to cast my mind back 20-plus years. When I was 17, in my first year of university, my friends and I made social arrangements via mini-whiteboards on our dorm room doors. As a 19-year-old exchange student in London I was advised to buy the A-toZ (and advised it was pronounced “A to Zed”) — a pocket-sized book of maps would take you to any street, alley, cul-de-sac, or station in the city. For months, my fingers traced its grid lines, pages smudging and dog-earring as I created routines.

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What you really, really want

Paper maps, landline phones, writing notes — these technologies are still available. It isn’t that we can’t live without phones, it’s that we choose not to.

We choose speed, distraction, and (the illusion of) convenience. The average Brit spends 24 hours per week online. Americans average around two-and-a-half hours per day on smartphones.

We come up with plausible excuses to justify this fixation. Whenever we discuss technology in class my students will chime in with “helps you communicate with friends and family far away”. One day, it struck me how silly this was, coming from them. My students are from tiny Spanish towns where nobody has gone anywhere in generations. They don’t have friends and family far away — but they’ve heard the line somewhere and chant it back like a line of the catechism.

Ticking away…

As an immigrant twice over, I do use my phone to communicate with friends and family — but not as often as I’d like to think. The majority of my screen time is spent reading Medium, checking email, or looking at pictures of my cats.

These aren’t ipso facto bad things, but they are giant time sucks.

My non-phone owning friend is an ex-professional pilot turned instructor. Prior to flying, he traveled the world as a chef and sommelier. That is the sort of resume you can build when you’re not glued to Instagram or Candy Crush.

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It’s your life

Could you give up your phone?

There are two possible answers: the honest one and the dishonest one.

If you’re honest, you could. Because you can do anything.

Would, or should you? That’s a question only you can answer.

Chose, or lose

As long as my husband travels for work, I’ll keep my phone, thanks.

But, if I’m honest, the relationship lifeline when he’s away is a distraction when we’re together. Instead of making active choices, we fall into our solo ruts of picking up our phones first thing in the morning, scrolling through them while we sip coffee, sitting side-by-side while staring at separate screens.

A 2016 study, as reported in Psychology of Popular Media Culture, found that routine interruptions and intrusions from technology, aka “technoference” led to “lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction”.

The more we succumb to constant phone, the more we endanger our ability to choose what is best for us, and our relationships.

Nobody wants to wind up lonely, compulsively swiping a screen for comfort, but it’s the direction we’re headed, unless we make active choices about our phone use.

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Don’t quit, replace

Smartphones are addictive. As anyone who’s tried to quit smoking knows, it’s the “something to do” you miss the most.

Don’t try cold-turkey: your phone will probably win.

Instead, replace it with something satisfying and engaging: reading, conversation, knitting, running. Heck, anything that helps people kick heroin will probably help overcome your twitchy screen finger.

If you can’t imagine life without your phone, try harder. You might be surprised at how rich and full of possibility it is.

Photo by Bethany Laird on Unsplash