I have a very on-again/off-again, love-hate relationship with my smartphone.
As a marketing professional that spends 6+ hours a day on social media, I can’t exactly ditch the device and still pay my bills.
As an avid outdoorswoman (yes, that is a word) that really, really enjoys breaks from the 9-to-5 screentime, I pretty much continually fantasize about throwing my always-there mobile device off the peak of a Colorado 14er, watching as it shatters into a thousand inoperable pieces on the rocks below.
I’ve done digital detoxes (LOVE!!!), commit to frequent screen breaks, and stick to a pretty rigid schedule of when I’m staring into that little Wi-Fi powered box and when I’m not. Overall, I’d say I have a pretty healthy relationship with technology, especially since my job depends on spending a LOT of time online. It takes commitment, and structure, but (most of the time) it works.
So, whenever I see articles containing the keywords “phone” + “unhealthy”, I (typically) just scroll on past, mentally citing all the reasons my phone habits are about as healthy as it can get:
I don’t sleep with the phone in the same room.
I don’t have (any) notifications turned on (not even email).
I don’t spend hours during my off time scrolling social feeds.
I have a healthy relationship with technology, right?
Well, I thought so….
Phone Intervention, Courtesy of Ted Talk
Then I watched a Ted Talk (began every 21st-century epiphany, ever) that made me rethink the whole phone-thing.
Psychologist Sherry Turkle presented an interesting talk on phones and our mental health entitled, “Connected, but alone?” You can watch the full Ted Talk below (it’s really, really good).
Cliff notes version of Turkle’s “Connected, but alone?”:
- We’re physiologically wired to connect to each other (a good thing).
- Since the emergence of mobile technology, we started connecting with our phones under the guise of being social (not always a good thing).
- Our current state of constant-connectedness has made us even more uncomfortable being alone (bad).
- Whenever we feel alone, we panic (rarely good), and “connect” with our phones (really bad). Instead of using a period of silence and activity to reflect and refocus, we reach for our phones and get lost in our own little “connected-but-not-really-connected world”.
Is my phone like an imaginary friend?
Even with all my social media “rules” and habits, I still do that.
I don’t want to process feelings or find clarity in silence – whenever I feel even the slightest bit of loneliness, I want to open up Instagram was watch the latest #frenchbulldogpuppies video (you’re gonna want to follow that hashtag). Like many techified professionals, I scratch my aloneness itch with Instagram, Texting, and Facebook.
Heck, I’ve even found myself scrolling through my email’s Spam folder while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room just so I don’t feel any social pressure to talk to anyone (pretty sure Turkle would be shaking her head right about now).
Time to actually talk to people (offline, that is).
Reflecting (phone-free) over my online and offline socializing habits, I decided to change my ways.
Next time I felt lonely, I was going to try sitting still, closing my eyes, and doing breathing exercises for 60-seconds.
If I still felt lonely after an on-the-go mindfulness moment, I was going to do something wild – I was going to talk to whoever was around me.
And not just “how bout that weather” chitchat; I’m talking some serious pre-cell phone conversation. You know, the kind where you actually look each other in the eye and learn all their grandkids names and their grandkids pets names and what their grandkids future grandkids should be named names. Serious Wi-Fi-free socialization.
Let’s Get Social Take 1:
I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms, so I thought chatting with my fellow consultant bench buddy would be a great place to start.
“Hey,” I said, sticking out my hand, “I’m Hannah.”
The CPA sitting next to me on a slightly overused early-2000’s upholstered settee jumped like he’d been goosed and just about dropped his phone.
No conversation returned. More phone starring.
Let’s Get Social Take 2:
Marketing conference. Six people at the table. Five heads down. Five hands scrolling.
“Hey Y’all,” I directed at my table mates, “I’m Hannah.”
Nothing. Nada. No one looked up.
Half a minute later, one of the attendees picked up his head and said, “Did someone say something?”
Let’s Get Social Take 3:
Networking organization meeting. 6:15 PM, a time that was clearly marked on the event schedule as “Social Hour”. 40-50 people in the room. I knew half a dozen of them.
A quick survey of the room revealed a couple dozen circles of five or six-person hurdles, just like the good ol’ B-ball days, except, they were all staring at their phones.
I walked around, trying to insert myself into the phone-centric huddles. No one even looked up.
Breaking my bad phone habits.
My talk-to-people-instead-of-scrolling socializing strategy is still in the works.
I was raised in the Deep South, which means I went to finishing school (it’s like manner’s camp where you learn how to write thank-you notes), grew up with Cotillion (not even going to attempt an explanation here – you should seriously google it) and will, thanks to much-Southern grooming, literally talk to a light pole and invite them over to the house for supper, hooch, and dessert.
If only I could get them to talk back…
Technology’s been credited with ruining relationships, destroying our attention spans, and a bunch of other not-so-healthy stuff. Researchers caution that technology-aided pseudo-connectedness will turn us into Wi-Fi-powered machines. Conspiracy theorists worry that within a few generations, we will have evolved into beings with computer chips implanted in our heads.
As a professional that feeds her family through tech-based work, I really, really hope none of the cautions come true. I’ve witnessed first-hand many positives of technology – suicide chat lines saving lives, nonprofits raising tens of thousands of dollars on social media, education barriers being broken down one web page (or YouTube video) after another – and fear overzealous tech caution inhibiting some of its benefits from being realized.
Our society needs technology, but technology presents some pretty damaging challenges to our society.
Like most progress-driven revolutions, it’s a balancing act. Only we can decide how much of our lives technology will be allowed to change, and it’s up to us to manage both our data consumption and lifestyle malleability.
My Updated Phone Relationship
For me, I’m going to keep up the digital detoxes and no phone notifications rules. I’m going to keep trying to be more conscious of how I tend to use my mobile devices as an imaginary friend of sorts, trying to break the habit to diving into my social feed or inbox whenever I feel alone or need connection.
Maybe it’ll improve my mental health.
Maybe I’ll be more in touch with myself.
Maybe I’ll be happier without a steady stream of FOMO and endless, endless digitally-assisted comparison.
So, if you see me out and about, retreating into my cell phone screen instead of being present, please interrupt my mindless scroll and introduce yourself.
I’ll try to do the same to you.