Addicted to our phones

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots” 

Albert Einstein

A few months ago, I took part in jury service and when you go into deliberation, you have to hand in your phones to the clerk for the whole day. Imagine! I was surprised as to how anxious and weird I felt surrendering my precious little phone to a random box, looked after by some person I barely knew. It felt like leaving behind a small child at school on their first day. Would my phone be safe? When would I see it again? What if someone was trying to reach me?

Our phones are powerful and seductive little machines, designed specifically to keep us attached for as long as possible. But what is impact of this intense relationship? Think about a time (am sure you’ve had at least one) where you’ve left your phone somewhere or even worse had it lost or stolen.  Just sometimes thinking about not having our phones nearby can be enough to let a little panic rise within. 

Separation anxiety is what we feel when we’re afraid of being apart from a person, animal or even an object. When it comes to our sacred mobile phones, there is even a name for it. It’s called Nomophobia (an abbreviation of “no-mobile-phone phobia”). We almost see our phones as an extension of ourselves, and our bodies. To be without it, would be like missing a limb. They act as small portals into our virtual worlds where our public identities are made and performed. 

Writer, Margaret Heffernan explains that “The cell phone has become the adult’s transitional object, replacing the toddler’s teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.” Transitional objects are not meant to be permanent. Eventually a child forgets their favourite teddy bear or let’s go of their comfort blanket. The separation acts as a marker in the child’s growth and development. They find the comfort and security within themselves (first installed by their caregivers), allowing them to surrender the external object. However, with our mobile phones, there is no such moment of permanent separation, hence our anxiety and dependence continue.

To ease our anxiety, we behave in such a way to seek safety with our mobile phones. For example, not only might we keep our little machines close by, but also might check it regularly and or reply/respond upon every alert, buzz or ping.  Although such safety seeking behaviour helps our anxiety in the short term, it stores up further problems later on as our dependency (or addiction) is reinforced by our behaviour. 

So, what can we do to help ourselves navigate the tricky balance of needing our phones for our lives to function but not to the point of becoming addicted? Whilst a digital detox (turning off all technology) is a lovely idea whilst on holiday, it really isn’t practical in our day to day lives. We need to have more personal control over the use of our phones as opposed to them having control over us.

  • Do a bit of a digital declutter: 
    • Check your notification settings, turn off all that are not important. This will stop the phone essentially pushing extra information onto you.
    • Any apps which you find difficult to resist (but are not essential to your day to day dealings) place in a folder, say on the second page, so they become less visible. I’ve done this and named the folder ‘time to waste’ which really wakes me up to what I am doing when I access these superfluous yet irresistible apps. 
    • Maybe delete such tricky apps for a few days and see if you really miss them.
    • You can even set colours on your phone to black and white (called grayscale on the iPhone). This will stop the bright colourful apps peacocking you into tapping on them, (I did try this and found the colour change too much to handle).
    • Don’t forget to use the silent setting to help too, so your phone has a less powerful presence to distract your attention. Plus, airplane mode doesn’t have to be used only when jetting off somewhere, it can be a great tool to turn off interruptions whilst still using your phone for other things. 
  • Have a mini break
    • In time – leave your phone at home for a quick trip to the post box or the local shops, extending the time period of separation with every trip. Dig out your old alarm clock and start the day unplugged, leaving your phone off overnight or in another room (on silent).  
    • In space – create no phone zones at home or work. Say no phones at the dinner table, in the bedroom etc. Research has shown that mobile phones left on the table at say a restaurant creates a block for real connection between people, so leave the phone in your bag or pocket so your full attention can be on those right in front of you. 

One thing is for sure, our phones are here to stay. It is up to us to decide how we want to strike that tricky balance between use and dependency. I reckon we all need a bit of deliberating time when we make a choice to separate from our phones, even just for a little while, so that we can get back to our present selves and the world around us. 

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

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