My phone broke a few days ago. It breathed its last techno breath and gave up, ready to be recycled into a bunch of probably not that useful parts, sent off to charity, or, knowing me, stuck in an odds-and-ends draw – the phone graveyard.
I’ve been worrying about my phone usage for a while now but haven’t managed to cut down until it was forced upon me. From the moment I wake up until I finally go to sleep, it’s always close by, always waiting to be checked or responded to. I’ve tried various things to stop checking – putting it on ‘do not disturb’, leaving it in another room, changing it to ‘aeroplane mode’ when I get ready for bed. The list goes on. Of course I can undo all those actions, and before I know it I’ve been watching Facebook videos of how to make shelves out of straws and cling film for half an hour and haven’t actually done any work. It happens, we’ve all been there!
Suddenly having that choice taken away from me has made me quite quickly reflect on how I see technology, how it perpetuates a vicious circle of anxiety and ‘connectedness’ and plays into all my insecurities and fears about myself. Even if no-one replies to a message I’ve sent, I’ll check my phone just in case. I start analysing whether I’ve said the right thing, or whether they hate me, or whether the world is coming to an end…or maybe they’re just in a meeting. Or, even more rebellious, they’ve just put their phone down.
Pick it up, put it down, pick it up again, unlock, put it down. Pick it up, unlock, check Instagram, check Twitter, check Facebook, check my emails, put it down. Pick it up, unlock, check emails again, check random app I never use, check Whatsapp, check twitter in case the news has changed, check the Guardian just in case there is more news I MUST KNOW NOW in the few seconds between checking twitter, put it down.
I don’t know how many times I go through that sort of routine in one day. I have an awful fear of not knowing what is happening, not being in control, missing out. And the tech companies that create these devices are brilliant and amazing at tapping into that fear and insecurity which just makes it worse. Now phones can pretty much do everything. I use it for all sorts of tasks – from measuring my period cycle, to doing the daily office (I’m an Anglican), sorting out my banking, and booking trains. Recently I was sent to the dental hospital for clenching my jaw due to stress. The consultant recommended I download an app that would send me notifications to stop clenching. All that ended up happening was that I clenched more knowing I was going to be reminded at some indiscriminate time!
When it comes to the language of addiction it’s a tricky one. It’s very easy to band the ‘A’ word around which often ignores the underlying causes, pain and suffering addiction causes. Often things we do are habits (humans are great at habit forming), but actions or behaviours that are interrupting our daily lives and, as a result, damaging and hurting us need to be taken seriously. When we are so plugged into the world around us our tolerance threshold changes. We are bombarded constantly with information, with horrible news from around the world. We are expected to respond instantly, to be on form, we become reactors and not actors and often I think this does more harm than good.
My anxiety definitely peaks more when I’m either super connected to my phone (an extension of my hand) or it’s out of my control. It’s a double-edged sword. The pressures from society and my upbringing have made me think I must be instantly available, able to respond at any time. This enforced phone detox has been really noticeable on my mental health, and I realise it’s actually been an act of kindness on my part. We need to start talking about this more and to not be ashamed or embarrassed. I recently spoke to a close friend, and she said that it’s not about just ‘stopping’. The tech companies are so good at picking up on all our feelings and emotions and insecurities about ourselves that they are doing all they can to manipulate and ‘win’ us over. It’s a big capitalist business model that we’ve all in one way or another been sucked into, and it’s desperately hard, if not impossible to get out. I will inevitably get a new phone and I’m not ready to completely unplug from having a ‘smart phone’ that does it all for me, but, I need to find a healthier, gentler, kinder way.