Today, let’s talk about the elephant in the room of modernity (which is more like the size of a mouse), the cell phone. We all seem to have them and we can’t deny the integral part they play in each of our lives. They can be wonderful devices for communication, socialization, and an endless barrage of useful information. I’m not going to list all of the benefits and potentials of such devices because the list would be far too long, but suffice it to say that we can barely function without them in our modern societies. However, this isn’t to say that this technology doesn’t come with a dark side when used in a certain way, and that’s what I would like to talk about today.
Cell phones and the adjacent technologies of the internet, social media, and endless other applications have only been around for the majority of the public for a little over ten years now. They have completely consumed our culture and affected almost every facet of the ways in which we socialize and conduct ourselves. I think that we haven’t really caught up to what exactly this technology, this capability, can do to our brains but the latest research in neuroscience and psychology are starting to shed some light on how they can affect our brains. Like anything, cell phones have the potential to be abused and used in ways that are less than beneficial to the individual. In this case, I am talking about cell phone addiction.
The constant need to check Facebook, check Instagram, check Reddit, browse the web, play games, and check emails, all of these are symptoms of a deeper issue. What many of us haven’t realized is that these devices can’t just be abused, they can actually be physically addicting. The thing about instant distraction, instant validation through likes and shares is that these things actually release a surge of dopamine in the brain not unlike when someone takes cocaine or watches porn. We tend to be limited in our understandings of addiction, contributing them to things like drugs, sex, and pornography but addiction is a chemical phenomenon happening in the brain. What we are really chasing when we are addicted is that surge of dopamine, the feel-good chemical. And just like drugs, a cell phone can manipulate the brain in the same ways if not used in a healthy fashion.
I am not just speaking from certain research I have done on the topic (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/12/11/phone-addiction-is-real-and-so-are-its-mental-health-risks/amp/), but from personal experience. I am a cell phone addict. At least most days. There is no telling how many hours I spend on my cell phone a day. It would probably be shocking if I actually calculated it out. It’s habitual, and without an engaged understanding of what’s happening, I can easily pick up my cell phone every single time I have a moment of downtime. Sure, social media likes and validation are one thing, but the distraction and stimulation that comes with browsing the web, YouTube, Reddit, or some random game alleviates whatever negative feelings or uncomfortable situations I might happen to be in.
For me, it’s not just an addiction, it’s a cop out, and I now recognize that I use my phone to distract myself from personal growth. I use it to distract myself during moments of silence from my own feelings, my own emotions, and my own bodily signals. If I want to grow, these are the times I want to sit with my feelings and try to understand them, but far too often I habitually reach for my phone. I can even tell on the days when I feel more uncomfortable or anxious than usual, I will reach for my cell phone even more so, and it’s noticeable.
Our brains, if left unengaged, are no match for this technology. It is designed to be addicting be it likes, comments, click bait news articles, funny videos, or endless other distractions. All of it is designed to manipulate the ways in which our brains understand reward and subsequent behaviors. For me, I have to remain vigilant and aware if I am to overcome the gravity of its influence. It’s not easy, especially if we have become entrenched in this practice, but I think fostering a healthy balance between cell phone use and personal time is important. Again, the cell phone is neither good or bad. The cell phone and the technology surrounding it are neutral. It’s how it is utilized that is the issue and I think far too many of us are what would be clinically defined as addicted, and without even realizing it.
But it’s okay. We are all in this together and like anything, understandings can be made and new behaviors and expectations can be solidified in our lives. I just think for me going forward, if I want to make self-growth and reflection a priority, I have to recognize my unhealthy dependence on my phone and how it can easily become a detriment to the hard work and uncomfortable introspective pursuits necessary to really grow as a person and understand myself.
I think there are three starting things I can implement to help me with this addiction:
- First thing in the morning I usually reach for my phone. This can be awfully stimulating and anxiety-inducing first thing in the morning so simply making it a goal to not reach for it and just let my morning flow organically I think will be a big help. Taking in so much stimulation so early isn’t giving the brain enough time to boot up and process the start of the day so simply ignoring the phone in the morning can be helpful.
- I can ask myself before I engage with my phone if what I am about to do is helpful or valuable to my progress, to my education, or to some planning I am doing for the future, or if I am just doing it for mindless distraction. If the answer is the latter, then I don’t pick it up. Of course, there are times when browsing Facebook or other social media platforms can be good when taking breaks from tasks but the majority of the time for me, it is keeping me from doing other things that could enhance my life more.
- I think simply turning my phone off and putting it in another room is what I want to happen if I am to truly tune myself out from the digital world for things like meditation, writing, and self-reflection.
So those are three simple starting tips I came up with for me to not be so dependent on my phone for distraction. It’s so easy to get caught up and invested in things that simply don’t matter. I am so good at mindless distraction, I think I may deserve an award, but I no longer feel like it serves me as I am becoming more aware of my routine, habits, and tendencies.
A big thing too for me is the fear of boredom. We are so not used to boredom anymore. It feels like we have all but eradicated it from our everyday experience. But I think boredom can be helpful. (https://www.google.com/amp/s/time.com/5480002/benefits-of-boredom/%3Famp%3Dtrue) Boredom can promote daydreaming, can spark creativity, and can help with problem solving and introspection. Boredom can lead to so many things and yet we are so uncomfortable with it in our modern world that we almost instinctively flee from it.
When I have been bored recently, I have tried to just sit with my feelings, however uncomfortable they are, and the times I have actually gone through with it, it has been rewarding for me. I had internal dialogue with myself, I processed my feelings, I payed attention to my emotions and what my body was telling me and I felt like I had a more intimate, engaged experience with myself that I never would gotten had I simply picked up my phone. It forces us to confront ourselves in those moments when no other options are available. I think boredom can help us develop a more connected, intimate relationship with ourselves and that is so important for self-growth.
Cell phones aren’t going anywhere, they are with us constantly and they are here to stay (until some other integrated piece of technology comes along). I understand that many of us are constantly connected to our phones through work and other functions, and I totally get that. All I am seeking is balance and a more intimate relationship with myself. I think a healthy life is one of engagement and information, which technology can provide, but it is also about unplugging, decompressing, and connecting with ourselves and our natural world. This includes taking time to listen to our bodies, listening to our feelings, and really processing our experience. We deserve to pay attention to ourselves every now and then and to learn from our feelings and experience. It’s all about balance. Balance is key and it is what I hope to attain in my life going forward so that I can continue to grow and understand myself. ❤