It’s everywhere. At the grocery store, in work meetings, and even on the highway. It’s talked about in the news, and discussed amongst friends. Our smartphone addiction has become awful — and we know it (more here and here).
We all have anecdotes of the absurd, careless, or downright dangerous behavior we’ve witnessed (or committed!) while glued to a device.
And, like so many others, I would spout the research about the detrimental effects of smartphone addiction.
I justified to myself how, in my case, it’s different. I couldn’t part with my beloved device because it had one or two features I couldn’t live without—how could I navigate the city without Google Maps? What about Venmo?
But if I’m being honest, I felt a little bit hypocritical.
Throughout the day, and sometimes multiple times in an hour, I’d pick up my own phone to check my email. Or Instagram. Or Google updates on the royal family. And I would catch myself checking my phone while playing with my son.
I realized that instead of getting the social interaction he needed from me, my newborn was getting a visual of my face blocked by a black rectangle, and a mom who was disengaged and easily bored with her infant.
I knew it was an addiction: I thought it was terrible, but somehow every time I thought about actually getting rid of my smartphone, it seemed impossible. I just couldn’t do it. I told myself I would ditch it someday, definitely, for sure. But not yet.
I joke that it took an act of God for me to actually rip off the band-aid that was my smartphone, but I do believe that dropping it into the washing machine was more than just an absent-minded postpartum moment.
My newborn was getting a visual of my face blocked by a black rectangle, and a mom who was disengaged and easily bored with her infant.
After my phone was hosed, I knew this was my chance to truly make a change.
And I am so glad I did.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
01. The pros do not outweigh the cons.
There certainly are pros to smartphones. You can Google auto repair places when your tire blows on the side of the road. You can check the details of a birthday party while you’re on the way there. You can settle almost any debate by Googling the facts mid-conversation. Lumped together, these all fall under the same general pro: convenience.
In a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport, he discusses this phenomenon as making decisions on the “any-benefit” model. Essentially, if a device, social media platform, or fill-in-the-blank thing provides us any benefit at all, no matter the quantity or quality of negative impact, then we will choose to use it. We overlook the negatives in our rush to justify the positives.
When I instead took an honest pros vs. cons approach to having a smartphone, the answer was clear. In my case, the cons were just too numerous to justify the singular benefit of convenience.
In that moment where I caught myself checking my phone while playing with my son, I realized: not only was I using this device as a way to escape boring moments, but it was actually taking away my ability to enjoy the wonderful, special, and irreplicable moments of motherhood that fill us up and make for lifelong memories.
If time is our most precious resource, the smartphone was far too much of a drain on that resource to be worth any benefit it may have provided.
02. I can function without it.
I really can, even without the apps I thought were most vital to my life as a mom while we were living in Chicago. For example, GPS apps were always my biggest justification for keeping the smartphone. My husband and I have discussed perhaps getting a Garmin for our car eventually, but so far haven’t needed even that.
Without Google Maps at the ready, I have had to plan ahead, look up directions on a browser ahead of time, print them out or write them down. A few moments of extra time, but it also keeps me from not planning ahead, driving off and then entering a new destination in my phone mid-drive, as I was certainly guilty of in the past (hello, dangerous!).
There have been a couple times where I’ve been out driving and gotten turned around, and needed a bailout. Without Google Maps, how did I survive? I called my husband. He, at work, looked it up for me and helped me get back on the right path. I got to interact with my favorite person on earth instead of just a screen, and my husband got to save the day. Win-win.
I really can function without it, even without the apps I thought were most vital to my life as a mom while we were living in Chicago.
It is still a work in progress to figure out the exact role all this technology should play in our lives. In the past we’ve done a bit of a blend where we kept an old smartphone around sans data plan. We would use this when we wanted the convenience of using Venmo, or to snap a quick picture of our son when we didn’t have our camera ready.
This was temptation enough for me, and since that old smartphone has kicked the bucket we are operating on the laptop for our technology needs. And it’s a struggle not to use even that too much, but I find that I can control my usage much more easily since it’s not as pocket-portable and notification heavy as my smartphone.
Going completely smartphone-free may not be practical for certain circumstances or seasons of life. Perhaps you need to come up with a blended option like the above.
However, if my brother-in-law, who works as a software developer for a tech consulting firm, can thrive in his career on only a flip phone, I think there are fewer lifestyles that truly need smartphone-level connectivity than we realize.
03. I just don’t miss it.
For something that was so hard to get rid of, you would think the pain of going without it would be felt daily. And sure, there was an adjustment period of about a week where I found myself checking my phone far too often. But since it was just a “dumb phone,” the result was pretty boring so I got over that impulse fairly quickly.
These days I notice that my life feels more full without it. I am more present and simply less antsy, bored, and restless throughout the day.
If my brother-in-law, who works as a software developer for a tech consulting firm, can thrive in his career on only a flip phone, I think there are fewer lifestyles that truly need smartphone-level connectivity than we realize.
Life is chaotic enough with a one-year-old running around, so I am grateful that a source of so much needless noise, mental clutter, and stress is gone. I am able to be more present, less antsy, and less worried about if my life measured up to the people I followed on Instagram.
Besides this, I don’t want to get caught in the inertia of “someday” and “eventually.” I want to be the type of person who can cut something out of my life immediately if it’s bad for me, and teach my son to be the same.
I want to teach him to have courage, fortitude, and to take action to choose the good instead of just paying lip service to it. It is all too easy to go with the tide of what “everyone else is doing” and that is not how I want my children to make judgments about what they should and shouldn’t do.
Actions speak louder than words, and that starts with me.
If you’re reading this and hesitant, I challenge you to just try it. It is not difficult to find a relatively inexpensive feature phone (aka “dumb phone”) for purposes of this experiment.
Worst-case scenario? You go back to using a smartphone. If you really find that you can’t live without it, then fire it back up again. But you’ll never know how freeing it is to unplug if you don’t try.