In future posts, I plan to discuss how smartphones are changing our society. Today, I focus on the individual, using myself as an example.
My top 5 issues with smartphone use for me as an individual human:
1.Fragments my attention span. Attention, not time, is the most precious resource we have. We have 24 hours of time each day, but no one, not even Elon Musk, has even 10 hours of deep attention in that period. At least not sustainably.
I check my phone a lot less than some people. In a big project lasting 3 hours I might check it 3 times. That’s significantly less than the British average of around twice every waking hour. Still, when I do check them, it breaks up my train of thought and distracts me. The effects of this behaviour go well beyond the actual time spent. Research shows it takes well over 20 minutes to get back on track following a distraction.
2.Wastes my time. I spend too long looking at things that really don’t add much to my enjoyment or my output.
3.Encourages low-quality communication. Apps like WhatsApp and Facebook messenger want to be used. They are designed to encourage communication on their platforms. The problem is: it’s too quick and too easy. I am encouraged to express messages that are less clearly thought out. I say things that don’t really need to be said. The art of distillation and the virtue of patience are being eroded.
4.Stops me engaging with the world/ real people. I look around in allegedly social spaces – bars, pubs, clubs – and what do I see? You know it. People on their phones. People Instagramming their drinks.
There are less and less genuine, human interactions. You know that person you follow on social media? Well, you don’t know them. There are real people out there and they should be our primary concern. I am frequently uplifted by the conversations I have with strangers, and would like to think I bring them some joy, too.
It’s not just real strangers we ignore, but real friends, too. This issue has been widespread in the public consciousness for a while now, such that many people are leaning against it. “No phone” rules at meals are not uncommon. Some restaurants are now giving discounts to customers who don’t get their phones out.
I am quite good at staying off my phone in public, but it still effects me.
5.Makes me reactive. By constantly responding to content that I don’t control, I become someone else’s puppet. I’ve also noticed the increased frequency of small snippets erodes my patience. It makes me a worse person. When reading a book, I choose the subject, and I control the pace. It has a soothing effect on my mind.
Low-tech project update
I haven’t actually let go of the smart phone yet.
I got stuck into a task and allowed myself to be carried away.
That said, I have been using it less and less frequently, and considering each use much more carefully.
At this early stage, I’ve noticed one thing.
Part of me is becoming repulsed at checking apps without a clear intention. The aptly-named ‘Zombie Scroll’ is beginning to make me feel physically sick.
It’s not subconscious, because I’m aware of it. But it’s also not an act of willpower. I would compare it to the aversion you might have to touching dog poo, or eating something you really don’t like.
It’s almost as if part of me knows enough is enough.
Of course, I have analysed the smartphone issue consciously before. I have laid out all the negative effects smartphone use has on my life.
Nothing profound has occurred.
It seems my body/mind is aligning itself with my judgments without me applying any effort. A curious phenomenon.
This has happened to me a couple of times before, when kicking other addictions.
I applied so much willpower to one particular addiction. I tried and failed to give up so many times.
Then one day, I just knew it was time.
The spell had been broken.
There was no willpower.
There were no relapses.
I was just done.
I – this monitoring, vigilant ‘I’- didn’t make the decision. A deeper part of me had already made it.
I’m not sure what the moral is here. It certainly isn’t “just wait and eventually everything will be fine”.
Being proactive is usually best.
When the I knew it was time to stop intoxicating myself four years ago and when I knew last week I had to stop checking my phone, it sort of felt like these feelings came on their own.
They were simply a very real manifestation of something my rational mind had known and agonised over for years.
Whether it’s eating less rubbish, using your phone less, or avoiding intoxicants, any act of willpower is not wasted.
You should always try.
Maybe you have to try a hundred times before your brain and body finally get the message.
Either way, it’s worth a go.
There is no sensible alternative.