The smartphone. Our modern day blessing and curse. It makes my life so much easier (but also, my brain doesn’t want to hold as much information as it used to, because “I can google that quickly” and this really annoys me). The thing that bothers me the most about this little machine is this: I find it harder nowadays to connect with people (face-to-face) on a deeper level and in a meaningful way. It’s difficult in a world full of isolating tech. I see people glued to their phones all the time in all kind of situations.
And here’s a probably unpopular opinion in Silicon Valley: I believe that smartphones are responsible for so many people’s short attention span, anxiety and FOMO. This is why I decided to write the post you’re about to read: How I try to use my smartphone in a mindful way, so it doesn’t control my life.
Remember the Good Old Days?
Do you remember the time when there were no smartphones? The time, where you had a mobile phone with limited storage space for SMS? You literally had to delete them once you reached 12 messages, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to receive any new messages. And the only game you could play was snake – at least on a NOKIA phone (do they still exist btw?).
Kids nowadays cannot even fathom how a life like that would look like. They pretty much are born with an iPad in hands, at least that is the impression I’m under, whenever I see toddlers and young kids looking intensely at and swiping through little screens. And I guess that even a lot of adults have forgotten about the pre-smartphone era (we had landlines and answering machines back then and imagine this: no caller ID – man that was fun. Not.).
Look around and you’ll notice, that most people have their phone in their hands. We’re taking selfies and pics of our food for the gram (yes, I’m guilty of that as well). We’re scrolling through endless feeds and need to record everything to be able to share our experiences with friends and with complete strangers (and let’s be honest, most of the pictures and videos disappear into our data nirvana anyway). Even at weddings, a lot of people will raise their phones just to get a shaky picture or video instead of enjoying the moment of two people who love each other getting married.
One Thing to Rule Them All…
The strange part is that this little rectangular thing often prevents us from having real connections, face-to-face, with real people, although it proclaims, that it connects us to the whole world. Whenever I ride the subway, I count the people who don’t bury their faces in a smartphone screen. It’s always less than a handful.
I’m also surprised how often people are more engaged with their phone in a social environment like a restaurant or a bar, instead of talking to the people with whom they’re sitting at the table. Sometimes you even see couples out on a date, and at least one of them (often both!) is constantly checking the phone for new Facebook updates or replying to instant messages. I’m wondering, are they texting each other? (I really like to observe people and their behavior whenever I’m out and about. No judgement here please).
How a Ringtone Caused Me Anxiety
I find that really sad. Sure, not long ago, I was one of those people. My phone dictated my life. I have to say my phoneS, because as many other people I had to have a work phone and also owned a personal phone. My work phone caused me tremendous stress. It was one of those BlackBerries, that feature a very unique ring tone. Whenever I hear that sound now, I still get stressed, although I gave the phone back in early 2017.
But how could my private phone cause any stress? Somehow my brain thought for a very long time, that whenever my phone vibrated or blinked in a 1000 different colors, my body had to react instantly. It told me to leave no time for contemplation, but to act now, because the phone demanded my attention.
I guess it was a weird mixture of instant gratification and feedback as well as the possibility to talk to someone “quickly” through any instant messenger and the opportunity to share whatever I was thinking or experiencing in that moment with my virtual friends (instead of my real ones).
Today, I always take a step back. I don’t let my phone rule my life anymore. What did I change? Not a lot to be honest, I only implemented some simple but powerful rules and tweaks.
My 4 “Mindful Smartphone Use” Rules
- When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I used to do, was to check my mails, messages and all notifications I received during the night. Still lying in bed. Ugh. Now I take at least 10 to 15 minutes each morning to allow my body to wake up, I stretch, I breathe deeply, I make a list of things I’m grateful for (sometimes I write them down, sometimes it’s a mental list) and only when I feel ready to start the day, I turn my phone on. Our mind is so fragile when we wake up, that it doesn’t need to be filled with any clutter right away first thing in the morning.
- My phone is on silent when I work and it lies upside down. This way it doesn’t interrupt me. When I take a break, I’ll have a look at the messages I received, and if there’s nothing urgent, I’ll answer them later.
- Another thing I did only recently, was to delete the Facebook app from my phone. Since I’m not really active on Facebook anymore and didn’t miss the app, I even deactivated my Facebook account (after saving all the important birthdays in my calendar. A ton of people forgot my birthday because of this lol).
- I love Instagram, but whenever I’m out with friends and my loved ones, I put the phone away. I might take a picture, if the food looks especially yum, and then the phone gets tucked into my purse again. Posting, scrolling and liking stuff is not that addictive anymore and I’m not obsessed with how many likes a picture might get. All my posts on my blog instagram account are either scheduled or posted during my “Social Media Timeslot” (that’s about half an hour in the morning and evening). I often sit down once a week to create all my content in advance and then either post automatically or manually for the next 7 days.
What Changed For Me?
I do all of this, so I can be really present and in the moment to engage and connect with my friends, loved ones, family or even strangers around me in a meaningful way. Another benefit is, that I can fully focus on whatever is in front of me (work, writing, reading, exploring the world).
Whenever I discuss the subway example with other people, I get reactions like “What else should I do on a boring subway ride?”. How about reading that book you try to finish for ages? Or staring out the window to observe the nature (or how people are stuck in traffic)? Here’s what I usually do: Always listening to something, either music or an audiobook, observing either people or whatever happens outside the subway, reading a book or magazine, or writing in my notebook. Some people even dare to talk to each other, but I’m too introverted for that. Please don’t talk to me out of the blue 😉
“I’d rather have that little machine enriching my life on my terms, than stressing me out.”
Smartphones are super useful, don’t get me wrong. Who would have thought, that we would carry around a small world in our pocket some day? But I’d rather have that little machine enriching my life on my terms, than stressing me out because it urges me to interact with it.
Weekly Nuggets of Wisdom
Here’s my list full of inspiration to read, listen to, watch and do about “Mindful Smartphone Use” – enjoy!
…reading: How to Keep Your Smartphone from Hurting Your Relationships. A super insightful article including 6 practical research-backed strategies on how you can avoid that your smartphone harms your real human connections.
…listening to: High Wire by Sinead Harnett. Perfect for your next subway or train ride. That song creates this amazing mood for getting lost in thoughts and for looking outside the window to watch the landscape passing by.
…watching: How social media makes us unsocial by Allison Graham. Very interesting and funny TEDx Talk how smartphones, any other smart devices and the internet create a divide between us human beings rather than a real connection/interaction (about 13 mins long).
…doing: Can you unplug for a certain amount of time? Try it. Next time you meet up with a friend for coffee, don’t put your phone on the table, but leave it in your purse. If your friend can’t seem to focus on your conversation due to his or her smartphone, address it in a kind and gentle way. Maybe he or she wasn’t even aware of their behavior?
What’s your opinion on mindful smartphone use? Let me know and reply in the comments!
P.S.: If you got a friend, who you think would benefit from this, feel free to share – ’cause sharing is caring.