Emerging From Your Phone

Tanvir’s latest entry talks about the impact that our smart phones have on our lives and social interactions. The sentiment is one I’ve seen in many entries and had in many conversations as well: Our phones take us out of the moment, disconnect us from friends and even keep us from doing the things we love doing.

While Tanvir’s entry suggests that people limit their use of their phones, many others write about phone distraction as if it is like the weather. “A low pressure system will be rolling in today bringing massive use of WhatsApp and reloading of Facebook. Be sure to take this in to account and let your boss and friends know you will seem a bit more distracted than usual today.”

The fact of the matter is that the phone is not the source of the problem. The problem is us. When we browse Facebook at a family dinner we are literally saying “My online friends’ status updates are more important than you.” When you check it while having coffee with a friend you’re telling them “I wonder if someone cooler than you wants to talk.”

For many, work or family obligations can be an easy excuse to offer. “I had to check my phone when I got the notification – it might be my boss/daughter/client trying to get in touch.” However, even this is an empty excuse. Smart phones are smart enough that we can tweak our notifications and ringtones to the point where calls from those we urgently need to hear from are given a different notification than a Twitter reply notification. It also goes without saying that if you’re using work as an excuse during your evenings and weekends and you’re not officially on call, you may need to define better boundaries with your employer – or ask yourself if they really are more important than people outside of work.

Our own family has dealt with this. Sage went down this route many years ago and wrote about it here. Since the writing of that article she has gone so far as to eliminate her mobile phone entirely. If she needs to get in touch urgently while she is out, she can find a pay phone or borrow one. If not, it can wait. If I think of something she needs to pick up at the store while she is out, I let it go – just as I did for the first 40 years of my life. Of course when we were in India she felt more comfortable having a mobile to get in touch with me should we somehow get separated but I’m not even sure she’ll want that next time. She rarely used it for contacting me and found it a bit distracting besides.

Daegan has been a little behind Sage in this respect. He has had a smart phone since he was about 13 but has never had a data plan. However Toronto is filled with free WiFi spots so there were lots of opportunities to check in. A week or so ago he came to the same conclusion as Sage: his smart phone was a huge distraction and he didn’t like how that distraction felt. For a couple of days he left his phone at home entirely. He liked that better but also wished he could send us a text or call if he was, for example, going to be late coming home from school or work. And so, last weekend a friend of ours gave him an old flip phone that he’s started using. He’s really enjoying that.

Which brings us to me. I’ve always been a huge technology fan. I started using computers in 1981 and found them extremely compelling – often too much so. Cell phones were nice but mostly a convenience – until they became so powerful. Once that happened, I found them as addictive as I found the TRS-80 Model I computers in the back of Mr. Hubbard’s math classroom – which is to say that any free second I had I would be there.

Some days I might explain my phone use as a means of connection. If I’m out in the world and feeling a little lonely, it felt nice to go to Facebook and see what others are up to and interact with them even in relatively shallow ways. But the drawback is, of course, that we forget how to be by ourselves. Do I want to relax and look out the window of the bus at the new neighbourhood I’m passing through or do I want to see who posted what on Instagram? Do I want to read my book or check Facebook? Maybe I can do both. Read a few paragraphs then check Facebook, read a few more then go to Instagram. I think we all know how well that works.

Like I have done with coffee, I often have tried to cut back on phone use with periodic success. Often, though, I have an excuse along the lines of what I have used when reactivating a cancelled Facebook account: “Oh, Sage is having an event soon. I should log in and share the event and help her promote it.” only to find a few weeks after the event that I’m still there.

So this week I’ve curtailed my phone use again. This time I’m trying a new method. My Samsung phone has a great battery saver app. Low and medium saving modes don’t seem to buy more than a few minutes but what happens when you activate max battery saving mode? Have a look:

A couple of things are notable here. The first is the power remaining. I’ve got 48% left. I set this mode on Monday when I was around 75%. Since then I’ve sent a few emails, had a few phone calls, listened to music while I went to the grocery store. And now 48 hours later I still have 36 hours of battery left.

It does this by doing all of the usual methods – slowing the processor, dimming the screen, and so on. But it also does a few other things: it turns off the GPS, biometric sensors (motion sensors for detecting when you’re walking for example or unlocking your phone with a fingerprint), and minimizes data usage to when you actually need it. It also limits the apps that will run. The four on top are always there, the four on the bottom are ones I chose. WhatsApp is still there because here in North America it is rarely used. However, one person who regularly uses it is a person in Bangalore whom I work with. When they need to get in touch, calling by telephone isn’t cheap but WhatsApp is free so that is mostly work-related.

How’s it working? Well, over the past several days since I minimized my phone use and deactivated my Facebook account you will see that I’ve started posting here again and also visiting many other blogs again. All of those times of “I’ll just check really quickly to see what’s happening…” when put together add up in to a significant amount of time. And the more exciting part is that I also feel much happier.

So I encourage you all – especially those of you lamenting how much phones are impacting people’s social lives – to quit looking at it as something external to you and outside your control. Yes, your friends’ phone use is something you can’t change. However, changing how much time you spend on your phone and social media is up to you. It will be much easier if you consider taking one or more of the following actions:

  • Downgrade your phone either with a new phone or through software or settings. Helpful settings can often be found in the power saving options or parental control options menus.
  • Clearly define your work hours and when outside of those hours, don’t worry about work calls or messages. If you must look at them outside of work hours, define limits as to when and how often.
  • Turn off your non-critical notifications. When your phone buzzes to tell you “Yelp has found a cool new sushi restaurant near you!” it’s often a trigger to not just clear the notification but “Hey, while I’m in here, let’s check Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.”
  • If you don’t need your phone, leave it at home when you go out. If you do need your phone, try putting it somewhere less accessible. Take it out of your pocket and put it in your backpack. Leave it in the glove box of your car – there if you need it, but not there to distract you.
  • Find one or more accountability partners to work with. It’s always easier to make a big behavioural change with someone else. Add consequences to it as well. For example, I’ve told Sage that if I reactivate my Facebook account within a week or take my phone out of it’s battery saving mode, I will cook dinner even on the nights she has agreed to cook – and two of those will be with brand new dishes. She has some other goals she’s working on with similar consequences. In the end we support each other trying to make personal improvements. And we also know we’re not alone.
  • Bring a book, notebook or sketchpad with you when you go. When you’re waiting and would normally pull out your phone to kill time, read a book, draw a photo, write a haiku, update your to-do list.

You’ve already sold much of your time to your employer or given it willingly to your school. Why not make the best of the hours remaining in your day doing something that makes you happy

14 thoughts on “Emerging From Your Phone

  1. You offer some great ideas! I only use my cell phone as an actual “telephone,” but sometimes feel like an outsider in today’s world. I’m so connected to computer use while in my home and don’t want that same feeling to follow me around wherever I go!

    1. I know what you mean about feeling like an outsider for sure. I especially notice that as people move away from phone and email communication to Facebook messenger. When I completely deleted my account I lost touch with a lot of people. Several people I know, for example, no longer answer emails – only Facebook messages.

  2. I like having the camera handy. Other than that, I really rarely use my phone. Only my husband and daughter have the number and they text me. The text beeps so I know it is one of them. I am saddened by how many families I see eating out with each person looking at their phone. Connection is not the same as proximity in a family!

    1. It’s really sad – and I say that having been someone who used to do that. But so many are saying “It’s sad!” as they’re doing it and not even realizing it’s a personal choice.

      I will say that when Daegan was 5 he set the table for us for dinner one night and made sure to put a book next to each place setting because that’s what he was used to seeing so it’s not like we always are 100% engaged that way. 🙂

  3. Great tips! I guess moderation is the key here like in everything else. I generally use my phone n connect with the the virtual when I’m by my self. The minute I have a second person in the same room, my phone takes a back seat. It’s all about wise use of technology. It’s easier said than done for many 🙃

  4. I remember that post about Sage letting go of her phone altogether, but I thought she had let go of her smart phone and was using an ordinary phone. I do stay away quite often. I can’t switch off the phone entirely as I live alone and my parents and siblings would get worried if they can’t reach me. But I do switch off the Internet occasionally and stay like that for a day or two, usually during weekends. And the best part is that I don’t miss Whatsapp and Instagram (the two apps that I use mostly) at all during those times. I am mostly inactive on FB and visit only very rarely. When I go for treks, there is usually no connectivity in the higher reaches of the Himalayas and that is a complete shutdown. Sometimes I have put my phone on airplane mode during my travels after informing my family. But now-a-days, I just switch off social media and minimize calls only to those that I must.

  5. I think it’s insane that people even need to go through all these steps to not look at their phone! I seriously never pull my phone out when I am with others unless it’s to take a photo! I always have mine on Silent so I only look at it on my own time, too.

    1. Definitely. It’s strange, eh? It is probably a little harder for me as I have a bit of an addictive personality. Moderation isn’t easy for me. You will rarely, for example, see me drink a single coffee. I almost have to drink a coffee to have the energy to make a coffee. 😀

  6. Very interesting Todd. Fortunately I have been able to divide my time for all my interests. Facebook or WhatsApp or blogging have their own place, they have never interfered with our family time together. But I understand for some people they become an addiction. I enjoy Facebook and WhatsApp but I never look at the videos that forwarded. I like to exchange photos with our relatives and send our wishes for different occasions. I cannot even imagine not reading books 🙂 But I am not interested in TV.

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