By Jennifer Lynch, Ph.D.
Over Easter weekend, my email password expires. For a full two days I lose all access to my email. To make matters worse, every time I try to use my phone, an obtrusive password pop-up impedes my ability to access other content. Panic ensues. I break out in a cold sweat. Repetitious insanity and ridiculous hope draw me back to my phone hour after hour.
But wait, I am not addicted to my phone. Am I? To make myself feel better, I complete a mental checklist. I leave my phone in my purse at family events and during meals. Check. I leave my phone on my desk when I meet with people in my office. Check. I leave my phone in the condo when going to the beach. Check.
The first thing I do in the morning before I get out of bed is check my phone. Check minus. I never use an out of office message because I check emails on vacation. Check minus. I often stow away in bathrooms, tending to personal needs while simultaneously answering emails. Check for multi-tasking. Check minus for grossness. I love the down time of standing in line to catch up on my Amazon Prime ordering. Check if I am alone. Check minus if I am with my children. I sit tub side searching for colleges for my high schooler while lending only an occasional glance to my three-year old twins splashing in the tub. Double check minus.
After about 10 hours of habitual phone checking and pondering the reality of my phone addiction, something unexpected happens. Perhaps I finally detox or just get tired. Either way, my emotions are noticeably different. I let go. I let go of the panic. I let go of the phone. I let go of the email. I let go of the ridiculous checklist. I determine that I am both aided by and afflicted by my phone, and I am okay with that. At the 11th hour, I find something else to do. Without my phone. I know I will return to my phone. But for now, I move about untethered.
I will return to my phone because I love my phone. I know I shouldn’t say that, but I do. Not like I love my children or my husband, but it is a special kind of all love all the same. My phone houses everything I need. Camera. Email. Calendar. Maps. Google. Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. Kindle. Washington Post. Ted Talks. Voxer. Wallet. Every type of information I can possibly imagine and immediate connection to any person around the globe is right at my fingertips. My phone is everything including the kitchen sink, and it fits in my pocket. Who wouldn’t love that?
The paradox is that the happier I am with my phone, the more my happiness gets lost in my phone. The more it houses everything I need, the more I find myself rambling about my digital house trying to find what I need. Although I have read (on my phone) all the studies correlating depression to increased technology use, I didn’t realize how much I was personally being impacted by my love affair with my phone. How can connecting with friends and looking at beautiful places on Pinterest cause so much angst?
For me, the answer lies in how I choose to spend my time on this device. I read the news about what is happening in my community (good), and then I read the comments (bad). I check Twitter to find great ideas about education (good), and then I check the Facebook pages of interest groups related to my school district (bad). I check in with friends at work (good,) and then I remember the hundred things I didn’t do and start frantically adding things on my calendar (bad). I look at how to maximize my wardrobe on Pinterest (good) only to berate myself for not losing that extra ten pounds (bad).
This weekend I was suddenly free from both the good and the bad. As it turns out, I didn’t really miss either. In fact, I felt happier and more at peace than I have in months. I was suddenly insulated from polarizing politics and uninformed rants riddled with flawed thinking, bad grammar, and poor spelling. I loosened the corset of righteous indignation and took a deep breath. I sat in the sun and I didn’t even miss Googling best sunscreen for toddlers.
I learned from my weekend without my phone that while I am drawn to it for utility, I stay on it for far too long. This is making me – and from what I can tell, much of the world around me – more and more unhappy. We veil our beautiful authentic selves in fish faces, filters, and odd angles while our truly ugly bits are silently fertilized and propagated. We are Pavlovian to online connections while ignoring the flesh and blood around us. This weekend allowed me to reflect and ask myself the hard questions. Why am I hesitant to disengage – even temporarily – from the virtual world? Why do I bring the ugliness, the chaos, and the unrealistic comparatives into my universe? How is my phone behavior impacting how I am defining my personal value?
I am not showing you my phone addiction through my Snapchat filter. Although it would be cute with a bunny nose and a crown of flowers, I believe there is even more beauty in my vulnerable sticky messy truth. In today’s world, we can’t totally disengage from technology. There is power and convenience in having all kinds of information in the palm of our hands. I, like many of you, have collected these conveniences like beautiful bangles and I was thrilled to be adorned in sparkle and shimmer. Over time I became enthralled with the glimmer and added bangles that offered no utility but were beautiful all the same. Perhaps this is where I went wrong. Over time I collected too much and didn’t use these accessories prudently. As a result, many of my beautiful bangles have become tarnished and dull, heavy and bulky. These conveniences are no less valuable, but I have come to realize that they do not make me feel valued or happy.
With that in mind, I will try to put my phone down and enjoy the beauty right in front of me. How about you?
Dr. Jennifer Lynch is an elementary school principal. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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