Present in Life with Smartphones

Phone Brain

Some have tried to call me, I am sorry I missed you. I managed to destroy my phone last week and rely only on opportunities to get in front of a computer and I tried to keep that rare as my back does not tolerate much. Hopefully the part I ordered for my phone will be in tomorrow and I can get back to semi-normal.

However, I realize I am not in a hurry towards the end of the week as I was when it first broke. It has not been a bad week at all actually except for worrying if someone needed me for something. In fact, it has been so satisfyingly less hectic that I am making a few changes. Maybe it is something you would like to try.

I am going to start by leaving my humongous-amongous phone on a charger in the front of the house at night and place a smaller old phone by my bed as a clock/alarm/occasional-I-cannot-sleep remedy. With a screen that small I do not last at all and I have noticed more sleep in the past week than I have had in a very long time.

Those of us that started out kid-dom without phones, or even beepers! should notice more readily an extreme change in mood and attitude when structuring use of the phone/screen time. We do it with our kids, why do we not take it as seriously with ourselves? You know, the 'it won't happen to me' syndrome.

I think many people forget how many factors come into creating negative responses. We have been basically abusing screen time since the 80’s! Today’s smartphones have increased the tendency exponentially as the number of uses installed on one device continues to grow. ‘Well, I just need it for that.’ ‘I just need it for a sec for this…’ Time adds up and is stolen from regular human activities and interactions before you realize it.

Facebook is specifically designed to increase notifications with your increase in use and interactions with friends, groups, pages, etc. Similarly, the algorithms for Instagram’s notifications are set to hold ‘likes’ and deliver them to you in batches to greater increase your dopamine response. So, do not feel sad if you do not get many likes at first – they are coming! All of this is with the intent to keep your face on screen time as much as possible for marketing.1

I know you are starting to consider the things that happen with screen time and here is a list of just some that is negatively affecting us and those around us:

·     Steals time

·     Reduces physical activity

·     Causes eye, neck and back strain

·     Marketing unfairly influences

·     Ability to interpret and express emotions weakens

·     Breeds apathy to right and wrong

·     Thwarts creativity

·     Weakens genuine presence with those you love

Pediatrician Michael Rich said, “Much of what happens on screen provides “impoverished” stimulation of the developing brain compared to reality…Boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen.”2

While some items on the list seem harsh, the reality is we are changing our brains. Just like our little pinky toe may disappear through evolution because it is not used, in our brains, neurons and their pathways are evolving to accommodate our activities and habits. Think about it. We are losing those processes we do not use, and our brains are designing new paths that are dependent on technology. We are losing our ability to think outside of the box on our own.

Is it an addiction? Yes, I think it is. How dependent are you on your smartphone? Would you have the positive outcome I have had this week? From another perspective, have you felt even slightly negated by someone else that will not put their phone down? Do you allow your phone to interrupt what would normally be an enjoyable experience? Stop. Be present.

If your smartphone is interrupting a walk down the block, dinner with family, a card game with a best friend…you are not present. Human beings cannot enjoyably and in a relaxed way divide themselves between the activities of technology and human discovery and interaction. You are literally divided with broken experiences and minimal dedication to everything around you.

Be present, set a plan defining phone versus smartphone use, and do not take technology to bed with you. You will not only find that those happy moments are returning, you will also feel more internally positive. Enjoy your life.

1 Haynes, Trevor; May 1, 2018; Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time; http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/.

2 Ruder, Deborah; Screen Time and the Brain; June 19, 2019; https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain.