“I’m listening,” my friend said as we sat across from each other at the cafe catching up on our latest news. “Uh hun, hmmm, yeah” she was making all the usual noises someone makes when they are following a conversation whilst holding the phone in her hands presumably scrolling through a favourite social media site. Suddenly she puts it down and looks me straight in the eyes, “I’m sorry, what were we talking about again?” She genuinely asks.
I think it goes without saying that distraction has become the biggest monster in our day and age when it comes to technology and cell phone use. From the big like getting into a car accident due to texting, to the small like spending more time than needed online, technology can be very addictive. How often do we say “I’m just going to pop over to Facebook for 5 minutes to get caught up on the latest news?” only to realize that 15 or 20 minutes later we are still on there. Did you know that statistically speaking, almost everyone has been late to work, an appointment or a social engagement at least once in their life due to being distracted by social media and overspending time on it. However, aside from the time lost online, there are also the emotional effects it produces such as your friend feeling unheard, unvalued, and unappreciated. There is also the addictive quality it produces in some people as a way to numb out of reality in a similar way that other addictive behaviours can produce such as drinking, gambling or online shopping. Furthermore, hearing all those distracting buzzes and pings can also add pressure for us to respond right away. We may be on a day off work when our boss sends us a DM and we feel compelled to respond. We may be in the middle of doing an important task and we hear a ping or a buzz and we feel compelled to answer our phone. In fact, there is even a phenomena called “Phantom vibrations” whereby we have become so used to feeling our phone vibrate that when it’s in our pocket we feel we have felt it vibrating or we think we hear the ring tone, when it is still silent. I think we all can relate. You’re at an event where you have clearly been told to silence your phones or shut them off completely, and someone forgets or doesn’t bother to do so. Suddenly you hear a familiar ring tone and everyone jumps to put their hands into their pockets, purses or rucksacks, even you who are aware that your phone has never had that particular ringtone. It’s a real thing. And then, of course, to end on a light and funny note – I once fell because I was rushing to catch the bus in another city and using my phone for Google Maps. My ankle hurt for days and I couldn’t help but think what a Millennial Facepalm moment that was.
When I told my friend that I had been asked to write about some of the unhealthy ways phones and technology can control us if left unchecked he scoffed. He is rarely on Facebook or social media and never posts anything. He said, “who, you? You’re always posting every day.” And that’s true. I definitely am imperfect when it comes to cell use and I probably am still on it way more than I need to be. However, there are certain rules I abide to which I think can also benefit you:
1) I don’t use my phone when I am out with friends. When I am having a coffee or dinner with someone I focus on them, not on my social media.I usually put the phone into my purse so it’s out of sight out of mind. This also includes not using my phone when I am at the doctor’s, at the dinner table at home, or at church. I generally would not have my phone on me when watching Netflix or movies with others either. [Caveat: cell phones are vicariously addictive, so I have become more aware that when your friend takes out their mobile it’s more likely for you to do so as well, it’s kind of like yawning. However, I have been challenging myself not to do that even then.]
2) I have put my cell phone on silent. This means that I get to respond to texts and DMs when I feel like it. I don’t have to jump right away to answering as soon as I hear my phone. The exception is that my phone does ring if someone tries to call me twice back-to-back or if they leave a message in which case I will respond as it could be someone important such as a GP.
3) I installed a screentime app on my phone. It’s gotten a bit complicated with lockdown due to being on platforms quite a lot for social events which normally would have happened in person. However, the general idea is that I only allow myself 1 hour of Facebook and 4 hours of cell phone use in general then my screen goes grey and I can’t open my apps. I have a password to log back in but it is such a random number combination with no significance so it’s a bit more of a hassle to remember what it is.
4) Even just being aware of how much I had been on my phone was mind-blowing. Matt offers a course called “The Phone Freedom Challenge” and he provided a lot of insight into how and why I am using my phone. It’s important to remember that phones aren’t bad. There are so many good apps and useful resources on them, however, it’s more how we are using the apps productively. Social media in itself is a good thing, but it’s not a good thing when it consumes our entire life.
5) I still do activities which I enjoy and I don’t let phone use dictate my day. I make a schedule of all I need to accomplish in a day and I have been able to stick by it. Some activities I enjoy doing that don’t include phone use at all are: walking (I often still listen to a podcast or music when walking by myself but I am definitely not scrolling and walking or stopping to scroll), going to the cinema, going to live theatre, reading a book, writing, taking online courses, and travelling. When I do these things I enjoy, I may still have my phone on me for pictures and emergencies, but they take my mind to the present and the last thing I am doing is thinking about what is happening in my Newsfeed.
Distraction is a very real issue of our day and I think many of us would be kidding ourselves to say we are never distracted by technology. I know that I still have a long ways to go myself and could further limit my phone use, but I also know that these 5 small steps I have taken have generally improved my relationship with social media and given me a clearer head especially in the midst of these pandemic times. What are some things you enjoy doing that take your mind off of social media?