I recently saw a funny post online. It was a chalkboard in a coffee shop with the following words “We don’t have Wi-Fi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995.” It made me laugh and then shudder about my increasing reliance on my smartphone.
When I first began practicing law in 2004, I had no smartphone. In fact, I could actually navigate perfectly fine through life without a miniature computer in my purse. I did not have an electronic map, yet I was able to find my way around. I did not have google to answer my every burning question the moment it popped into my mind. I did not even know how to text message! Now I have allowed my smartphone to dictate much of my day. I have had enough.
Dear iPhone, I want to break up. Stop distracting me from human interaction. Stop reminding me at every moment how many emails I have received that I have not yet answered. Stop tracking my every movement! Stop making me panic if I have left you in the car. And stop making me think I should have 24-hour access to all my friends and loved ones and that they should have 24-hour access to me.
In today’s work environment it is perhaps a bit unrealistic to think that I could break up with my iPhone entirely. That said, I feel I can do better. Much better. But where do I start?
According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey, Americans check their smartphones an average of 52 times per day. Sadly, when I looked at the usage information on my own phone, I have no problem meeting this average and am often over it. To put this into perspective, the average life expectancy of an American is roughly 78 years. If you assume phone usage does not start until age 15 (though in reality it often starts much sooner), a person could check their phone 1,195,740 times over a lifetime. This frankly makes me extremely sad and a little nauseous.
I know I will not look back on my life and wish I had spent more time on my iPhone. What I will miss is time lost with my family and friends because I was mindlessly staring at a screen. So how can I turn this around? I decided to research the issue and happily found many articles on the subject. So, I cobbled them together to formulate an action plan.
Turns out, while some phone usage is obviously both helpful to our lives and fine, smartphones have created bad habits for many. Like any other bad habit, it can be reversed by taking inventory of what the cause of the phone usage really is. For me, I think my phone usage is due to a combination of a fear of missing a work email or text and not responding instantly and an inability to just sit still and be bored. While I do believe smartphones have made our work lives easier is some respects, I am acutely aware that after work my brain needs to spend more time being bored or at the very least not stimulated by a smartphone.
To address this, I removed all apps from my phone that were not necessary or did not actually make my life better. This included anything resembling a social media app or an app that tracks my every move and sends me push notifications. Then I turned off almost all my push notifications except those that are critical. I came up with some parameters of when I am allowed to check my phone immediately: phone calls, when being out of the office causes a need to check emails, or when I have a specific need to use a map or a weather app etc. Relative to all other noncritical usage, I set a goal of cutting my phone usage by 50% – which, ironically, will be tracked by my smartphone.
So … I have issued myself this challenge and plan to keep notes about when and why I have “phone cravings” over the next week. Wish me luck.
My hope is that doing all of this will result in more quality time with friends and family, more time spent reading books, more time noticing the world around me, more creativity – both at work and at home, and more time simply living in the moment and listening to my own thoughts. While I don’t miss all things about 1995, I do miss being phone free – even if just for a few hours at a time.
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on June 16, 2019.