Our Growing Use and Abuse of Smartphones: “Why I Unplug Every Chance I Get”
You know that small rectangular thing attached to our hips and fused to our ears? That thing we can’t seem to put down or look away from every minute of every day. That thing that was invented to bring us closer but in reality shields us from having to look each other in the eye. That thing we call a cell phone. Of course you do. You’re probably reading this article on your phone.
I truly wonder if a billion years from now in our evolutionary timeline the cell phone will morph into an actual appendage. Personally, I think that would be more convenient because I’m having trouble fitting these ever-larger devices into my jeans pocket. Fashion trendsetters take note. But until Google comes up with a hands free device someone would actually like to wear, there’s a better way to give our tired thumbs a rest. We can stop using them, for a little while.
Here’s a small list of places where people probably should turn off their phones: movie theaters, crosswalks and sidewalks, public transportation, public restrooms, public restaurants, public libraries, any public place really. Do you need me to tell you how many people have fallen to their deaths while taking a selfie? Isn’t one enough?
I know we like our phones. We decorate them. Our texts and conversations are very important to us. But here’s the thing, when you are using your phone in a public place, I can hear you. When you’re walking, I want you to pay attention so you don’t bump into me, or at the very least say you’re sorry for bumping into me. Okay, that sounded harsh. I’m sorry. Maybe you are in a hurry, taking photos on assignment for National Geographic or trying to donate your kidney or thwart your child’s abduction. Unless it’s a real emergency, all I’m suggesting is you back off a little, talk or text away somewhere more private. Remember privacy? Well, that’s a whole other article.
It has been said (on social media) that social media is responsible for a significant rise in depression and anxiety, especially among children. Evidently, our addiction to smartphones and third party apps like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram is like a drug we can’t quit. If you don’t believe me, ask any parent what happens when they take their teenager’s phone away. And it’s not just kids who lose their minds along with their privileges. We’ve all witnessed the meltdown when a grown person thinks they’ve lost their phone. It strikes terror in the heart.
Before you accuse me of over-exaggerating our culture’s chronic over use and abuse of cell phones, I will admit that there are times when people use their phones responsibly. They set reminders for things they would otherwise forget like taking medication or buying anniversary gifts for their spouse. Many incidences of injustice and brutality have been called to national attention due to someone using their phone at the exact right moment. And I don’t know what we would do for laughs without the hilarity of cat videos and skate boarding accidents.
Sometimes people even put their phones away. I have yet to see anyone take a cell phone into the shower, or text when they are asleep. I have no idea if people look at their phones during sex but I really don’t want to know.
I will also admit that I am guilty of using my phone at the expense of interacting with people. I’m not proud I‘ve pretended to have conversations on my phone rather than stop to chat with neighbors in the grocery store. I’ve already checked my email twice while writing this article. I rely on my phone apps and maps. I’m no different than anyone else who uses phones to do life. However, I’ve come to realize that being available via phone 24/7 is not serving me well.
Every time I heard a ‘ding’ I was conditioned to run and check my phone. It was time to pull back from this madness before I started salivating like Pavlov’s dog.
I’m old enough to remember the days when families had one phone with a very long cord on the kitchen wall and no answering machine. We survived, so I know the proverbial world won’t end if we don’t look at our phone for a few hours.
Before you accuse me of being too old to ‘get it’ please understand I am not anti-cell phone. I’m not suggesting we go back to wall phones or the old days, god no. We couldn’t if we tried. Cell phones are a work necessity for many people. I am suggesting we exercise control over our impulses to return messages on command. We can preserve our personal time and keep office hours.
I’ve learned to be mindful of the time I spend on my device when I could be engaging in more healthy activities. Every day, I make a point to disconnect from my phone and plug in to my immediate surroundings. Time I used to spend on social media opened up new windows for self-fulfillment like reading, exercising, practicing my ukulele, and improving my Spanish. It’s amazing how much better I feel, especially my thumbs.