Do you remember life before you had a smartphone? I barely remember.
I got my first iPhone in 2010 when I was in grad school studying social cultural anthropology. I needed an audio-recorder for doing interviews and a way to take quick notes in the field for my research. I decided to splurge on the iPhone 3G, which was the previous year’s model when I bought it.
It was probably the most life altering purchase I have ever made.
Before my iPhone, my Samsung flip phone was almost always dead. I would only text the bare minimum because I didn’t understand how T9 worked and typing out messages on a 9 digit keyboard was excruciating. When my phone was charged and turned on, the voicemail blinky light would always be flashing. I never checked my voicemails because I had to enter a passcode and most of the messages were just from my dad saying, “Hi, it’s dad. I’ll try calling you again later.” I remember feeling so irritated when I checked my voicemail that I lost 2 minutes of my time listening to that message.
Now, I waste dozens of minutes per day just checking the homescreen of my phone to see if anyone has contacted me.
I used to be hard to reach; but when I was with you, I was with you.
Now, I’m quite punctual in responding to people. It bothers me to have an unread notification – and if I read it, I have to respond because otherwise I’ll forget and that person will think I’m ignoring them. But I’m distracted when I’m in the flesh.
I used to manage a full-time university course-load and a part-time job. I used to hang out with friends daily, date, read books for pleasure, scrapbook with my mom, and watch TV with my brother.
Now, I take care of a one year old, clean up after 3 people, maintain this blog (and we know that I’m pretty infrequent with that), and check my phone. I rarely read entire books for pleasure anymore. I hardly find time to cook. And I’m horrified to say that my husband and I can spend entire evenings sitting next to each other both looking at our phones.
Something had to change.
When my brother was visiting, he noticed that my phone would send me notifications for absolutely everything: “The University of Calgary (my alma mater) retweeted the Calgary Herald”; “Sally Stranger posted in Mom Group”; “You took 6789 steps today!”; “Have you played 2048 recently?”. It was too much. My phone was buzzing every few minutes, and I’d look at it to see if it was important. But all that brain power, all that distraction for interruptions that I didn’t even care about was sapping me of my time. My brother suggested I turn off all notifications and when he said it, I looked at him like he had three heads.
“You can do that?!”
“Yeah. Just go to settings.”
It was seriously mind-blowing to me that I had the power to affect incoming information like that. Such a tiny action and already my smartphone dependency was becoming more manageable. I turned off notifications for every single app except iMessage, Hangouts and Messenger, because I wasn’t quite ready to become the kind of person who is hard to reach, especially being abroad. And let me tell you, it has been liberating! The impact was immediate – I was looking at my phone less. I was spending less time on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter because they weren’t constantly asking for my attention.
A few months went by, and I adjusted to this new freedom, but my phone still felt a bit too much like an appendage. It was always at my side. It was my best friend, in a way, because it was my support system – linking me to my friends and family back home in Canada. I was constantly pressing that home button and looking at the home screen, like a nervous tick.
I went to my friend Sarah’s house for a playdate and I asked out-loud what time it was, motioning for my phone. Sarah looked at her wall (not her Facebook one, her actual wall) – there was a clock there. A great big clock with a white face and black hands. And this blew my mind. A clock? On the wall of your living room? Like as decor? Is that a thing?
And then it dawned on me that the next stage of separation from my phone was to no longer treat it as my watch.
I used to wear a watch, before DK. After he was born, I found it impossible to transfer him from my arms to his crib without his head chaffing on my watch, so I took it off and began relying on my phone for the time. I put my watch back on.
I used to have an alarm clock on my nightstand that glowed red digits in the dark. But one day I spilled water on it and it died. I had started charging my phone next to my bed, you know, in case someone got in an accident in the middle of the night and I got a phone call. And so my phone easily replaced my alarm clock, my night-light, and my bedtime-reading all at once. I bought a $14 alarm clock on Amazon with big red numbers so I could see it without my glasses on in the middle of the night and not have to check my phone for the time, inevitably seeing middle of the night notifications. I started turning on my lamp for my bedtime reading.
And I bought a $10 wall clock to hang in the space between our kitchen and our living room. Next to it I hung a Gilmore Girls-inspired poster, “In Omnia Paratus”, which means “Ready for Anything”, and a painting of a girl with her nose stuck in a book, as reminders of what I wanted to make time for. And I check the clock – all the time.
I still have a long way to go weaning myself from this life-changing technology. I don’t want to go back entirely to the way things were before I had a smartphone. I think I’m a better daughter, friend, sister and wife when I’m reachable. But I do want to stop putting everyone else in the wide world of the internet on a higher pedestal than my son, my husband and myself.
My next steps to cure myself of my smartphone dependency are to move its night-time charging spot off of my nightstand. Reading on my phone late at night keeps me awake. I know it keeps me awake. Scientific research knows it keeps me awake. And yet, night after night, I decompress from the day lying in bed staring at a tiny glowing screen in the dark looking at Taylor Swift gifs on Tumblr.
Next, I need to determine a resting spot in the house where I will keep it during the day instead of always within arm’s reach and allow myself to check it a specific intervals. The thought of it makes my palms sweaty, which is why I know it needs to happen. Perhaps perching below In Omnia Paratus will be a good spot for it – and then I really will be Ready for Anything because my mind won’t be buried in my phone.