In a world ruled by technology and data, our lives are pretty much governed by the pocket devices that we carry with us everywhere. We can retrieve info just as easily as we search for them.
Every morning, I would wake up to several notifications alerts. All together, they would wake up the impatient giant inside me, and once that giant is let loose, the rush to attend to them begins, especially if they are coming from a particular individual. Browsing through social media apps and seeing what has happened to the world during your sleep is always addicting.
However, I discovered that my smartphone can be a significant disruptive force. I have had days when I have not been able to stay away from my phone’s screen. I have had other days when I have unlocked my smartphone out of habit more times than I actually need. On boring days, both I have done.
I have even sensed the experience of having a phantom phone in my head, connected to the “could-be” notifications bells that could emit from my physical smartphone. I would be strolling along the street, but actually, I’d be in two locations simultaneously rather than being attached to my surroundings.
Why Are We Struggling To Keep Our Phones Away?
We can all relate to what it is like to check our phones compulsively other than pure boredom or to make ourselves look like we are busy in an awkward setting. According to an August 2018 report that evaluates mobile unlocking behaviours:
“Gen Z smartphone users in the United States unlock their devices on average 79 times daily. Millennials ranked second, averaging 63 unlocks a day, while the Silent Generation had the lowest number of daily unlocks at 18 times per day.”
It is becoming increasingly evident that we are mindlessly using our smartphones. When we are feeling anxious or lonely, we reach out to them for comfort.
We think about the conversations we have had or have yet to have on our smartphones. For us living in countries where we are forced to stay at home to combat the spread of the Covid-19 infection, we yearn for periods of normalcy and what better avenue to do that than by glueing our eyes to the screens of our smartphones. However, those habits erode our attention, which is our most valuable asset.
By giving our attention away without our consciousness, slowly but surely, we deprive ourselves of the life that was once driven with meaning and purpose. Before breaking free of this addiction, I recall typing in “t” for Twitter in my search bar numerous times. There were days where I used to check my Mail app more times than I can count. Even after removing the Facebook app from my smartphone, I could not resist myself but continue on the desktop sites.
“The cellphone has become the adult’s transitional object, replacing the toddler’s teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.”Margaret Heffernan
I was addicted. I was trying to scratch an itch in my mind. I was looking for that one thing on my smartphone that would help me get rid of that itch. I was unequivocally getting into the habit of performing “small checks.” A portion of me craved for something new to pop onto the screen and hence, into my life.
It dawned on me that this behavioural pattern is eventually being ingrained into my lifestyle rather than a “one-time” event. However, it is beyond sound. We can only receive what we desire to experience within ourselves and the real world around us.
You Pay With Your Mental Health
Does regularly unlocking my smartphone makes me feel any better? Maybe. However, I would reach a point where it only gives me a fake sense of pleasure. Realistically, it makes me feel lethargic and lazy by the end of the day.
“It is okay to own a technology, what is not okay is to be owned by technology.”Abhijit Naskar
Inspecting my phone numerous times in a day or interacting with it for too long makes my head spin, I will confess. It separates me from myself. At the same time, my smartphone has this notorious habit of giving me hope that something outside, on a six-inch screen, can provide me with a deeper sense of enriched well-being.
One day, before I completely lose that connection between me and myself, I just decided to switch off my phone. I left my phone off for a couple of days. Initially, I pondered about what to do to fill that void that I have created. However, as the days went by, I began to felt far more connected to and aware of myself and those around me.
We have this preexisting notion that our smartphones can redirect us to an imaginary place where our lives can be greatly enriched. Our phones have become the equivalent of cigarettes for our eyes and sugar for our cravings, and we cannot get enough of it. However, the more frequent we unlock our phones and do those “small checks”, the more we jeopardise our peace of mind and detach ourselves from the present moment.
Tossing Your Smartphone Away Is Not The Solution
It came to my senses that I must develop a strategy or a set of techniques to break my addiction. Hence, I decided to go old-school — I reverted to using a standard phone with no apps built-in.
After a period of time, in spite of the privileges, I started to miss things like being able to use Google Maps to navigate around unfamiliar territories, snapping a photograph or chitchatting with friends from around the globe via Twitter and Snapchat. I missed listening to my favourite tunes and watching videos from my favourite YouTube channels.
I am not suggesting that one should completely remove his or her smartphone from the picture. However, it is not a viable choice for most of us to bid farewell to our devices in this time and age because doing also restricts us from enriching our lives meaningfully with the seemingly infinite perks of technology.
Our pocket devices are not the foe; we are our own enemy. What needs to be addressed here is how we use them mindfully without sacrificing our purpose-driven lives.
Ways To Wean Yourself Off Smartphones
That amount of time you spent on your mobile devices can also be used to do something else that adds value to your current (and future) life. By reading the steps below, I reduced the amount of time I spend on my smartphone significantly and regain my ability to achieve peace of mind.
1. Go old-fashioned by having a regular clock.
I am sure many of us fall into this morning habit of reaching out to our phones as soon as we open our eyes. By attending to your smartphone first thing in the morning, you are essentially kickstarting your day with other people’s priorities in mind over yours.
2. Take a weekly day off from your phone.
After interacting with our mobile gadget for six days straight, don’t you think it is worth giving your eyes and your device a well-deserved break? By switching off my phone for one full day every week, I realised that my smartphone is just a necessity, not an essential. It was something that I did not need constantly, and that fact alone helped distance me from my phone.
3. Put your phone on sleep mode.
It is vital to get an adequate amount of sleep and ensure that you have a good sleep quality. By switching your phone to sleep mode, you can sleep without being disturbed, and you will be less inclined to go surf the web first thing in the morning. Who does not like a better quality of sleep and a more peaceful morning?
4. Your emails can wait.
If you are struggling to break the addiction, try closing the email browser. Stopping the flow of inbound emails has been so therapeutic for me. The harder alternative is to summon the self-discipline not to view your emails during a particular time of the day or night. For instance, you will not check your emails between sunset and sunrise. Otherwise, removing the email app from your smartphone and limiting yourself to just the desktop site may work too.
5. Deactivate dormant apps.
Only keep the social media apps that really benefits you and remove the rest. For instance, I do not have Facebook or Reddit installed on my phone. However, I have WhatsApp, Twitter and Snapchat. Given that everyone is unique, you will have to determine what works best for you.
Final 2¢: You own your life, not your smartphone.
Multi-functional smartphones have given us plenty of conveniences. However, it is a double-edged sword; it can either enrich our lives or endanger our lives. Smartphone addiction, widely regarded as “the newest cigarette” globally, has left many people baffled about the quality of life they deserved and their relationship with others.
Visualise a film where the protagonist continuously checks his smartphone. A character who is constantly distracted by the content on his smartphone would not make much of a hero. No matter how handy a smartphone is, we cannot ignore the detrimental consequences to our well-being.
What’s to say you are not the main character of your life? Change your lifestyle, recalibrate your perspectives on smartphone usage and begin using your smartphone mindfully to your life’s advantage. Do not fall into the smartphone trap so deeply that it eats your soul in the end.