Disconnect: ditching my smartphone in search of a better connection
April 4, 2017
I’ve been feeling a little tug on the old heartstrings these past 4 weeks of Lent. It began as a bit of a wild hair (hare? Rabbit or follicle growth?) the fleeting thought “you should get rid of your phone” which I promptly batted down with a vengeance. Because wuuuuut. Really, what? Who could live in such a way?
I’ve written before about my addictive smartphone habits (be careful the things you swear you’ll “never” do) and my kind of pitiful attempts at self regulation. So this has been no bolt from the blue. But still? To step away entirely? Seems a little dramatic. And why would I be dramatic? Nobody in my family is dramatic.
But the nudges kept coming. At different times, like stuck in traffic and finding myself frantically scrabbling a blind hand in the bottom of my purse, whereisitwhereisitwhereisitdidIleaveitohcrapwhereisit…there it is. And then feeling a subsiding tide of stress tamp down because I had found it, my precious.
And for what? So that I could flip frantically to the last page of my home screen – where I banished all my social apps and alerts – and see if any new dopamine hits had come in since 9 minutes ago when I’d last checked?
I am not painting a flattering self portrait. Intentionally so. I will be honest with you as I have been increasingly honest with myself this past month or so: I am addicted to my smartphone.
I am addicted to the internet in general, as I imagine many (most?) of us are these days, but it’s a whole lot more manageable, at least for me personally, when it isn’t living in my purse or pocket.
Several times during March I experimented with “blackout hours/days,” leaving the phone connected to the charger, going out for a run or a walk or even on an errand (gasp) without my phone, and I don’t think that I can adequately convey to you the level of anxiety that surged up within me walking out of the house without my trusty device in hand. But curiously – or perhaps it is no curiosity at all – after a few minutes adjustment, maybe 15 or 20, I was stilled. Settled. Resigned that I was going to get nothing in particular “done” in this little chunk of time aside from whatever it is that I’d set out to actually do, whether it was the library with the kids, a long walk through the neighborhood, or a trip to the store.
And it changed things. It has changed the way I react to the world. The way I smell things, (did you know things still have smells?) the people with whom I interact, (mostly my own people, because I almost always have tots in tow) and it changes the pace and rhythm of those specific moments in my day.
I reach over and over and over again into a phantom pocket, hand drifting unconsciously to scour beneath the stroller hood, fingers itching to unlock and swipe and capture. (Admittedly, I have missed some cute pictures.) I may have to start carrying a real, live camera again. Or taking notes. So retro.
But in exchange, I think I stand a chance at getting part of my life back.
I don’t think everyone struggles in this way with technology. But I do think the unconscious, blanket adaptation of every new technology to come down the pike en masse is a real problem.
I don’t think every technology is good for every person.
And I will go so far as to say that on the whole, on a cultural level, connective technology is taking more from us than it is giving in return. We are not more connected, but less so. And at a dear price.
So that’s my piece of it, anyway. In search of a little more peace, I’m trading in a piece of hardware and a whole lot of convenience and connectivity for the ability to go … slower. To be in the dark sometimes. To be intentionally unavailable to most everyone so that I can be tightly focused and targeted on five somebodies who depend on me and deserve my undivided presence. (that’s one husband + four kids, not an announcement.)
I’ve spent a lot of time being loosely available and vaguely attentive to a lot of things over the past 6 years or so of smartphone ownership. I haven’t had a lot of good boundaries or hard stops in place, however, which could help me divide and truly be attentive to the various aspects of my vocation that demand not just physical but also emotional and intellectual presence.
I was trying to mentally tally the amount of time I probably spend on this little device throughout the day, whether for looking up a recipe, reading directions, taking photos, scrolling through apps, and leaving voxes and I flinched when I came up with a number. Tried to remember if I could find anything in my own childhood to compare it with, was there anything my mom spent 5 or more hours a day doing, extracurricular to her parenting? Was it possible she spent 5 hours a day watching television, or on the phone, or reading books?
Not likely. Not during the investment years where she was buried in babies and pouring the foundation for her family’s life. I’m sure she wished most days for a lifeline, an outlet, a support network and in so many instances, my phone has facilitated that for me. And I don’t want to dismiss that or cheapen the reality that in moments, the phone has been a life saver. But those real, important benefits do not, in my life, outweigh the steep cost of distraction. Of unease. Of missing moments and becoming more and more deaf to the movements of the Holy Spirit throughout the day, of the little nudges that God has something to say to me but I need to phone a friend and process it with her first.
So that’s a problem.
And this is my solution.
It won’t be everybody’s solution, and it’s no call for an analog revolution. But I hope if there is something that He is trying to say to you, you feel more free to hear him speaking than I have. I hope if it’s this very issue that He has been in your ear about, tugging on your sleeve, tapping on your shoulder…well, I hope this is a little jolt of solidarity from the ether, a confession that, yeah, me too. I’m also having a hard time with this.
In the meantime, I have no plans to abandon the blog. Or my laptop. The technological revolution is here to stay. And I’m going to pick and choose the winnings from the wreckage and say, yeah, this, this works for me. This fits in my life. And this doesn’t. And discard what isn’t helpful, and full steam ahead with what is.
So long little smartphone. We’ve had some good moments together, and you’ve captured some treasured memories. But I’d like to try my hand again at making some on my own. (Also, you make my ear really, really hot sometimes and I’m a little worried that might be a bad thing #samsungproblems.)