It’s the first thing I see when I wake up, and often the last thing I see before going to sleep. Enough said, right? It feels like an invaluable part of my life. So much so that the few times it’s broken (or dropped in a pool, or a pond), I’ve replaced it the very next day. The thought of navigating without it startles me. The fact that I have to consciously tell myself to not look my phone is troubling. It’s taken a hold of me, and I kind of hate it.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is amazing. What these pocket computers can do is nothing short of revolutionary. Connectedness, awareness, the spreading of information, the ability to capture injustice, the endless entertainment and brain food, and a slew of other amazing things make these tools pretty fucking great. I do not hate my phone. I hate the hold it has on me. I can only pray it’s not a case of severe Stockholm Syndrome.
I hate that I’m anxious when I don’t have my phone in my pocket. I hate that I blankly stare at other people playing dumb games on the subway (I refuse to play cell phone games on the subway). I hate that I cannot fully enjoy something without checking my phone at least once. Reading, watching TV, having dinner…all the activities in which we are supposed to fully engage become tainted by the glow our screens. It’s not a matter of priority. It’s not suggesting that the phone is more important than whatever else is going on. It’s the momentary lapse of attention, the brief moment where you’re pulled out of the experience and shoved into your phone that’s troubling. Even if only for a second, this moment can change the tenor of whatever’s happening. It replicates itself – a single look implies it’s okay to look again, to avert your attention again. And again. And again.
I recently took the subway home from school and made a conscious decision to not look at my phone once. What I found was that I had to actively prevent myself from doing it. It’s become reflex. Second nature. It’s engrained. Any moment of downtime immediately is filled by my phone. Before I have the chance to say no, it’s too late.
With that said, phone’s aren’t going away, and the questions are: do the positives outweigh the ways in which phones change how we exist in the world and how do we mitigate the negatives while accentuating the positives? For example, any internet research about phones unleashes a plethora of negatives: Are phones making us more isolated? Are phones giving us cancer? Are phones hazardous to your health? Does phone use ruin your sleep cycles? Does using a phone make you lazy? Because smart phones became so ubiquitous so quickly, I feel like we don’t have any real answers on a lot of this stuff other than the few studies here and there, along with TONS of wild speculation. But note that I say this without having dug through tons of research on phones, it’s just a gut feel. I could be totally wrong.
The trick, I think, lies in not only shaping the platform of what we call phones, but shaping our view of them as humans. Understanding how these devices affects us psychologically will go a long way in helping us leverage the tool when helpful, but be able to put it down when not. For example, I recognize that I compulsively check my phone. This doesn’t do anything other than try to very briefly distract me from whatever boredom I’m trying to keep at bay. Repeat this enough times, and bam, you’re at your destination. Understanding this, I can begin to change it. I can take the steps to correct my behavior.
As for what I do with my phone…well, here’s rant part 2.
I’m a bit anal, in general. So when I see the red badge letting me know that I have an email, or a facebook notification, I HAVE to get rid of it. It’s an annoying compulsion. And this is exactly what app developers (and Apple) want. To get rid of the icon I have to open the app. Once the app is open chances are I’ll poke around it for a bit, even though the initial motivation was only to get rid of the badge. I don’t really care what the badge meant, mostly it’s garbage. The most notorious of these are Facebook. The facebook news feed sucks me in for NO REASON. I don’t have any interest in looking at it. All it does is serve to make me angry. Viral videos about celebrities, cute animals, people arguing about something so unproductively that we’d be better off without the argument altogether. It’s a black hole of attention. And know all this, knowing how I feel – I still get sucked into it. I’ve now disabled facebook notifications, so we’ll see if that changes things.
Which brings me to email. Another thing that demands constant attention. That little red badge taunts me. I get so annoyed by it that I think I often ignore emails that I really should pay attention to.
My most used app is probably my least favorite, simply because I realize how frivolous it is, and I realize the major reason I use it is to simply kill time. Not to engage or to educate or entertain. Simply to kill time. That app is Alien Blue – it’s a reddit client.
After all this negativity, I think it’s time now for why I love my phone.
Podcasts, music, internet access, maps and navigation, weather, and reading. These are the bedrock of my phone usage. Podcasts feel like time well spent, as does music. For when I’m feeling like being entertained and educated – podcasts. When I want to let my mind wander a bit more – music. I can find a place to eat, or get coffee instantly. It’s arguable that these things are a detriment. I.e. maybe I should read instead of listen to podcasts. Music doesn’t truly let my mind wander. Finding a place instantly reduces the need to explore and discover. But in a place like New York where time is more precious that money, I feel confident in these choices.