Abusing the Cell(f)

So this is my first experiential blog post, it was inspired by a train of thought I had in my car the other day.  After seeing a guy straight up texting while driving a moving vehicle, I thought to myself, no one is in control of that car right now, it actually scared me.  Later that day I realized how much I do the same thing and all of the other areas of my life that my cell phone distracts me from.  I started thinking about all of the negative impacts that cell phones have on our lives and  I wondered what it would be like if all the cell phones just disappeared.  Since that is highly unlikely to ever happen, I decided I could at least give mine up for a week to bring more awareness to this "addiction" our society has created.

The night before my first day of what I'll call my 'digital detox' I was surprisingly anxious, almost afraid of how I was going to get through my week without a phone.  I began to think about how much I use my phone on a daily basis, not only for convenience and communication but to avoid boredom, to avoid being present.   I googled cell phone addiction and found a formal diagnosis... "If you're obsessively checking your phone and you feel anxious when you're not on the grid, you could be suffering from nomophobia. Nomophobia is a fancy term for “cell phone addiction".  YIKES, I'm addicted...

These were the parameters of my digital detox:

  1.  No texting, G-Chating, FB messaging or communication of any kind via words on a screen
  2.  I'll check voicemails and e-mails once or twice a day, and I'll make any phone calls related to scheduling or logistics necessary (and only while at home).
  3. Other than checking voicemails and email the phone will be on airplane mode the entire week.  
  4. Absolutely no social media on any type of device

And here's how my no phone week went:

Day 1:  Waking up, my first instinct is to check the weather, can't do that.  Getting in my car to drive to work I want to check google maps to see what the quickest route is, I have to choose myself.  Getting settled in to work, this is where I would usually sit down and start scrolling to kill some time, but I have no choice but to be productive instead, and it actually felt good!  About 20min later I felt super isolated, I craved some connection to the outside world, it passed though and the rest of my morning was uneventful.  Afterwards I had two appointments in unfamiliar areas of the city and I needed to go to the ATM, so before I left work I made sure to map out and write directions for everywhere I needed to go.  It was a new feeling, having to wing it in my car and figure out where I'm going without google maps directing my every move.  But I made it to all of my destinations with no real hiccups.  I realized I wasn't feeling inconvenienced without my phone at all.  When it was time for lunch I couldn't yelp the best place to grab food, so I just walked around until I saw something that looked good.  I bought my lunch and went to the park to eat it.  As soon as I sat down I had the instinct to grab for my phone to distract myself.  Instead I just sat there, and people watched, and enjoyed the weather.  San Francisco started to feel like a different city, I was able to observe and appreciate all of the nuances of the city without any distractions.  It brought me back to a time in my life before I had a smart phone, and it felt REALLY good. 

Day 2: I decided to go for a run and then realized I wouldn't be able to listen to music. It sounded awful but I did it anyway.  The run became meditative, the city providing it's own soundtrack to keep my awareness in check.  The birds chirping, cars whizzing by, the sound of the trees in the wind.  It all combines together to be this constant reminder of presence.  Not just presence in the moment, but the presence around me, the existence of all of this life surrounding me.   All of this life that my cell phone prevents me from seeing.

I decided to stop listening to the radio in my car as well.  I noticed my road rage (which I so shamefully suffer from, it's genetic) had almost vanished.  Driving in my car without my phone or the radio was so peaceful.  I didn't care if someone cut me off or was driving super slow.  I wasn't in a hurry anymore.  

Day 3: The thrill of peace wore off a bit.  Living and teaching most of my classes with no music, I was getting pretty sick of the sound of my own voice.  I started listening to the radio in my car again.  I still wasn't feeling inconvenienced by the lack of my phone though.  I guess I overestimated the usefulness of my phone.  

Day 4+5:  I was feeling very disconnected by this point.  I'd hardly seen or heard from my friends and family because catching up or making plans to hang out is quite challenging without a phone, but I was feeling good about my time alone.  I was watching less tv, I was reading more, spending more time outside, and I was meditating regularly.  I felt pretty neutral about not having my phone.  In fact, I was starting to feel like I didn't really even need it.

Day 6: OK, it's the weekend and I want my phone back.  I have no desire to make phone calls to my friends to plan out my weekend.  So I don't, I teach my morning classes and end up having a low key night.  It was enjoyable but I did feel like there was something else I could be doing that might be fun.  I didn't dwell on it for too long.

Day 7: I've become very in tune with my phone habits by now, noticing reactionary thoughts of  'I would take a picture here if I had a phone', or 'I'd be scrolling on social media if I had a phone right now'.   I went on a 10mile hike to Alamere falls.  There's no service here so not having a phone isn't much of a challenge, I am a little butt hurt that I can't take any pictures since it's a beautiful hike, but I get over it.  As we go home and chill after the hike, I start thinking about this being the last day of my no phone challenge.  I was shocked, by the end of the night, those same feelings of anxiety crept up.  Only this time I was anxious about getting my phone back.  I didn't want to go back to the constant interaction and connection to the outside world.  Giving up my phone had offered me an opportunity to connect to my surroundings instead of my social network and invited in space for comfort and relaxation where it didn't exist before.  I was dreading having my phone back.

The most profound realization I had throughout this process is that I don't actually have an addiction to my phone.  I never felt feelings of withdraw or a strong desire to cheat and go back to my phone.  What I've come to understand is that my relationship with my phone is abusive, not addictive.  I've read all the studies and feel the implications of being in front of a screen all day.  I know that I'm polluting my mind and setting unrealistic expectations for myself by constantly comparing myself to other people online.  I know that I use my phone as a distraction from being present in my life because sometimes that's just easier.  I know all of these things but I keep subjecting myself to it.  I keep going back.  This week has offered me the space I needed to bring full awareness to my unhealthy habits with my phone and the willpower required to implement change.  I can now appreciate the wonderful ability that my phone offers me to stay connected to friends and family, but I will no longer be subjected to it's abuse.  It's time to draw the line.  

Just like they say "you are what you eat", you are creating your mind with what you put in front of it.  Moving forward, I'm committing to limiting my phone use and creating a healthy environment for my mind to reside.  What will you do to take care of your mind?