All the signs were there.
Of course they were. And anyone could see it.
Why didn’t I just walk away? How could I not see the destructive pattern of this relationship when clearly it was draining my energy? Was I oblivious? A glutton for punishment?
I’m talking about my relationship with my phone, my cell phone.
Well—this is going to make me sound old—but here goes.
I got my first cell phone as a senior in high school, not because I couldn’t afford one or because my parents were strict, but they simply weren’t widely available until I was a senior. I remember not being able to make calls until after 9 p.m. and being charged for messages left.
Text messages were an additional charge, and when we wanted to communicate during school hours, we actually passed notes. No, we didn’t carve out hieroglyphics on a stone tablet. We simply took up pen and paper and elevated delivering them across the classroom into an art form. No rapid messages typed out with thumbs. No touch screens. No emojis. No social media for that matter.
Our cell phones were basic. They were made for making phone calls so that’s what we used them for. Years later, I held back on getting a smartphone. I couldn’t think why I needed the Internet at home on my PC and on my work computer and on my phone too. It seemed like a waste of time and money.
I still look back and think that I should have obeyed that clearly higher judgment on the matter. But of course I succumbed, though I did it years after nearly everyone I know—and with an Android rather than an iPhone, for people who care about that.
I’m no longer the senior in high school with my first cell phone. I’m a single mother of two with a job and bills and responsibilities. My relationship with my phone is toxic. How many hours do I spend checking my email or social media or taking ridiculous pictures on Snapchat? How much time goes into texting or surfing the net or playing on apps?
I’m not saying there aren’t benefits. I love and adore Google maps. I seriously dig DailyArt (art learning app) and Insight Timer (meditation app) and TED talks. I love listening to music on my phone and learning things while I’m working. I like the convenience of my email and social media being right there at the touch of my fingertips.
But while all of those things are seriously awesome, there’s something about them that’s seriously not: the way we allow our relationship with our phones to take away from our relationship with living and breathing human beings.
I spent a couple of hours today surfing AirBNB for vacation options for a family vacation. Sure, my intention was to find a fun and affordable place to stay to take my kids on a fantastic adventure. But I spent a couple of hours only halfheartedly paying attention to those children while I looked for the perfect place.
I had to wonder why. Could it not have waited until after they went to bed? Or wouldn’t it have made just as much sense to spend just a few minutes looking and then look some more another day? Why do we think that the things on our phones can’t wait? And what do we sacrifice when we’re too busy with our apps to notice the lives around us?
It’s not uncommon now. Go to any restaurant and look around. Diners checking their phones. I’ve even been on dates where the phone sat in a date’s hand while he stayed connected to the World Wide Web but was disconnected from me. Can we not eat dinner without updating our Facebook statuses? Are we not experiencing life if we aren’t SnapChatting or Instagram-ing the photographic evidence? If we didn’t post it to Facebook, did it even really happen?
And if we see that it is a problem, what can we do about it?
We can start by setting some boundaries. How much phone time is too much for our comfort? Maybe we can slowly start cutting back our screen time, or even have whole days screen-free. Slowly, we can reconnect with our lives rather than staying intimately connected to our phones.
Do we need our phones during meal times or when we’re spending time with other people? Maybe we can learn to get comfortable with putting our phones on silent or even turning them off entirely.
Do we need to check social media and email first thing in the morning and right before bed? Perhaps we can set a time parameter around when we check our accounts. Maybe we can give ourselves an hour or two in the morning and at the end of the day where we don’t check the screen unless an important message comes through—and, no, I don’t mean a Facebook notification or an update from whatever game app we’re engaged in.
I think if we’re really paying attention we’ll see that our real-life relationships deteriorate when we spend more time engaged in a relationship with our smart phones.
If we want to have stronger interpersonal relationships, it’s important to be honest with ourselves about this. I know that I wasted a couple of hours today checking vacation rentals when I could have been spending quality time with the two most precious people to me on this earth.
I know I don’t want to spend another day regretting the time I spent with my phone that I could have spent with people I love.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Lieselle Davidson