(Yes, I fully realize the irony of using technology to talk about the downsides of technology. Let’s continue.)
There’s a life I want to live.
It involves lots of books. Quiet times with God, as the sun rises, curled up in my armchair with a mug of tea. Visiting all the National Parks. Deeply investing in people; going the extra mile for them. Learning new languages. Sharing—the material blessings I’ve been given, the real and raw parts of my story, my faith. Running lots of miles. Being part of something bigger than myself.
There’s a life I’ve been called to live.
It is full (John 10:10). It is wise, making the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:15-16). It is clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12). It is free (2 Corinthians 3:17). It clings to what is good (Romans 12:9). Its center is this: to love other people (John 13:34).
And isn’t it interesting that on the lists of things that give my life meaning and things that I am called to, my phone doesn’t make the cut?
Seriously. You would think that, given the amount of time I spend on my phone, it must add some pretty substantial value to my life. And it does add value: it’s one way I connect to people I love, especially the ones who live far away; I enjoy listening to music or podcasts while I run or drive; I’m able to snap pictures of gorgeous sunsets. But mostly, my phone doesn’t add much value. It adds ease. It’s easy to use an app for everything from language learning to Bible reading to email checking. It’s easy to kill time waiting for the bus by checking twitter or Instagram. It’s easy to text words that would be scary or uncomfortable to say aloud. It’s easy to hit the “next video” button, over and over.
Funny how ease wasn’t on my desirable life qualities lists, either.
Added value (albeit limited) and ease are good things, certainly. But I’m coming to realize that, in many ways, my phone actually takes more from me than it gives.
According to my screen time stats, I pick up my phone 99 times per day and receive 119 notifications per day; disregarding sleeping hours, that’s an average of about one pick-up every 10 or so minutes and one notification every 9 minutes. I spent more than 26 hours on my phone last week; that’s more than a whole day. No one would think it’s unreasonable to say: that’s way too much.
And this problem is a lot bigger than me. Several studies link excessive phone use, as well as excessive social media use, to a rise in mental health problems for teenagers. (This is not to say that mental health disorders like anxiety and depression aren’t real or serious and should just be solved by getting rid of smartphones; reducing smartphone use may just be one tool in the toolbox for coping with mental illnesses.) Excessive phone use can also be related to sleeping less, damage to romantic relationships, chemical imbalances in the brain (this one got me y’all), and over-reliance on the Internet with so-called “lazy thinking.” I mean, what?! These little boxes in our pockets are way more powerful than they seem, and they don’t always work their magic in our favor.
Despite these downsides, I’ve resisted getting serious about some sort of digital detox. I always remind myself of the myriad benefits of my phone generally and social media in particular. But the positives don’t erase the negatives, and in this case, they don’t outweigh them.
So I’m getting a flip phone. Yes, I’ll still have my laptop, and yes, I’ll still be texting and calling. But kicking it back about ten years to when I didn’t have a smartphone is still a big move. It’s one I’m so ridiculously excited for, and that I’ll definitely be writing more about on this space. It’s the right move for me right now, because it’s moving me toward the life I crave and the life I am called to.
I am not imploring everyone reading this to follow suit, go to the AT&T store, and buy a flip phone. Please know that is not what I’m doing. I just want us all to think—really think, with our minds, not our machines—about the pros and cons of our phone use. My guess is that most of us need to make lists of the things that matter most and seriously consider how our phones help or hurt our pursuits of those things. The benefits don’t mean that the costs aren’t real and serious. If we don’t take action steps, as drastic as going off the grid or as small as setting a daily social media time limit, those drawbacks will steal our true connection, authentic presence, and joy.