As I walk down the street chasing after my toddler, I reach into my back pocket for the hundredth time pulling out my phone to make sure I haven’t missed anything in the 20 seconds since the last time I did the last same maneuver. For also the hundredth time, I wonder why I feel the need to keep checking this tiny piece of technology when there’s plenty going on around me: My son is squealing with delight as he spots our neighborhood stray cat, the leaves are changing from a dark orange to vibrant red as the fall season rounds its final corner, and the sun’s shining down on us providing just enough warmth to let us stay outside for a few minutes longer. Yet still, I can’t help but glance down at my phone.
I’ve gotten used to having it with me. It’s a reflex. I love being able to snap a picture at any moment. I like the comfort of being able to reach someone immediately in an emergency. I feel less lonely knowing that if there’s a last-minute play date, I’ll be able to find out about it in time to go.
I’ve heard again and again that we as a culture need to stop being so obsessed with our cell phones and start paying attention to what’s happening now in front of us — the moments we can’t get back and can miss in an instant. But I always thought the warning didn’t apply to me. I’m not that attached to my phone, I internalized. I’m employed by the Internet, so I need to be connected or I could miss something important. That’s what I told myself at least.
But then I came across this article that shows exactly how we use our phones as crutches. In the survey, some of the college students admitted to pretending to be reading texts as they walked down the street so that people would think they’re involved in something, and one even shared that she prefers to sleep with her phone next to her rather than her boyfriend. Seriously? This is getting bad. That’s when I decided that I would stop relying so much on my phone. And then, as the world tends to do, it forced me to hold true to this vow: I dropped my phone in the toilet.
At first, as any true millennial first-world-er would do, I panicked. How would my husband tell me he was going to be late coming home from work? How would he call me to double-check where to find something in the grocery store? What would my dinner guests do if they got lost and needed directions? What if someone texted me, and I *gasp* ignored them? What if, what if, what if.
To be honest, I cheated the system a little bit from the get-go. I grabbed a tablet (serious first-world problems over here) and shot off a few quick emails letting my family know why I wouldn’t be answering my phone for the foreseeable future. I realize this wasn’t exactly a technology cleanse. It wasn’t as if I was completely disconnected from the outside world or social media, but the convenience of having my phone in my back pocket at any given moment was taken away. I thought I was going to miss it, but in truth, it was liberating. Suddenly I didn’t need to worry if I missed a text or an email. I didn’t need to know where my phone was at all times in case someone called. I didn’t need to ensure I was wearing something with pockets so I’d always have a place to put it. I immediately lost the need to constantly check Facebook or Instagram to see what the rest of the world was up to.
Sure, I like using social media and checking in on daily plans via text, but I didn’t miss it at all. This is when I realized that the desire to look at these things wasn’t the problem. The problem was the constancy of it all. Why do I need to stop and see what other people are doing – or even look up information — when I have a quiet moment with my son? Why can’t I just sit and watch him play for a minute?
The truth was for me, it wasn’t about what was on the phone. It was my inability to do nothing, even for a minute, that was my problem. The endless feeling of being so constantly busy with so many facets of life was translating to me feeling like I needed to seize every moment to do something, whether purposeful or not. I thought about how many times I clicked the screen on my phone just out of the physical habit of always doing it, not because I was waiting for something or even needed to see something. I thought about the times that I glanced at my phone when I could have been watching my son rearrange his trains on his track or when I could have answered one of his 20 questions immediately instead of waiting until I’d finished reading a sentence in an email.
I found, for me, it was about the sense of need to multitask, to constantly engage in some way, rather than to actually know what was on my phone. (I know, I know, multitasking is so passé.) Instead of absentmindedly clicking on random apps I’d already checked and rechecked seconds before, I started doing other things to engage myself. I doodled and made lists on paper. I finally transferred all the addresses I had saved from Christmas card envelopes into a paper planner. I wrote out some ideas for dinner and drew my son a picture. I put the same toys away 800 times simply because it gave my hands something to do. I stopped doing unnecessary things with my hands and did things I would need to do anyways later. It might be more convenient to keep my lists on my phone so they’re with me at all times, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. To have my son see me doing something else, to not be attached to a piece of technology, is more important. It allowed me to be more patient with my son because he was never interrupting when I was trying to accomplish a task that he couldn’t participate in, and it allowed me to be more efficient when I finally did get around to checking my email — answering everything all at once instead of endlessly throughout the day.
I could have reactivated an old phone, but I chose not to. Instead I enjoyed the break and let myself learn some needed lessons about my habits and my priorities. And when I finally turned my phone back on (fingers crossed it had dried out), I’d lost the temptation to check out every pin, post, and tweet I’d missed and I set my phone aside and ignored it.
I immediately fell back into my old habits simply because they’re just that: habits. But now it’s time I consciously try to break them. It shouldn’t be too hard; it’s not like I’m solving world peace, I’m just putting down my phone. So I’ve made a “home” for my phone, turned the ringer up loud-loud-loud, and told my husband he’ll just have to call me back a couple of times if I don’t answer. I’m done walking around with my phone, making sure it’s on me at all times, because things will be just fine if I don’t look at it all day long. Or for an hour.
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