Confession: some days I look at my phone a LOT. I don’t really understand how it happens. It just kind of appears in my hand. In social situations I’m not comfortable with, the phone becomes the thing I turn to.
I’m not the only one. I notice most people do the same. Waiting room? Phones out. In the queue for a bus? Phones out. Pre-school pick up? Phones out.
I’ve been contemplating my phone and its impact on my life for a while now. For years, I had a dumb phone, a little neat rectangle of plastic. When my daughter was born in 2013, I didn’t really message anyone from the hospital for fear that the click-click-click of the keys on my tiny, feather-light phone would annoy people in the other cubicles. I never understood how people could become phone zombies, because my phone was a grey screen of nothingness.
Then I upgraded.
In a lot of ways, my life improved massively: if I got lost, I could Google Maps my way out of it. If I needed to remember a fact, I didn’t have to rely on my brain to dig up the information: I could just ask my phone. When a news story broke, I could turn to Twitter for fast updates. I got caught in the rain a few less times, because I remembered to say ‘okay Google – is it going to rain today?’ before I left the house. I could connect with other parents online and realised, quickly, that I was not alone.
It was a world of information and connection at my fingertips. In the time it takes to draw a breath I could find something out.
I didn’t consider what it might be taking from me.
So, for Lent this year, I gave up social media (or at least attempted to).
There are many benefits for taking time away from your phone. Actual quality time with your loved ones. Eye contact with other human beings. Less pressure to measure up to other people’s Insta-lives. Buying less stuff, because I wasn’t suddenly aware of something that I needed in my life immediately even though I didn’t know it existed five minutes before. I had less occasions of boiling rage at some random person’s stupid opinions on Twitter. I didn’t have to worry about giving more information to advertisers.
But the one thing that really struck me from my internet hiatus was this:
I felt peaceful.
Finally, I had a break from the noise. I realised how much information I was absorbing all day long: hundreds of ads, strategically placed to stick in my brain. Conversations between strangers I didn’t know. Memes. Videos that autoplay when you scroll past them. House conversion updates from a girl I knew at school a million years ago and have never spoken to since. Photo after photo after photo of freakishly tidy desks, and unicorn-coloured things, and chubby adorable children, and cats, and peonies, and fashionable people leaning against walls whilst wearing sunglasses and bumbags (never did I think I’d use the word ‘fashionable’ and ‘bumbag’ in the same sentence).
All this information, constantly flashing before my eyes. All the time.
To quit, even just temporarily, felt like the first breath of fresh air you take when you’ve been sitting in a stuffy office on a scorching day. It felt like freedom. Endless amounts of head-space stretched out before me, totally empty, ready to be filled. Or not filled, sometimes.
I regained the ability to sit still and stare off into space without reaching for my phone.
I remembered how to sit in silence without yearning for something to fill the void of quiet.
I taught myself how to really watch a film without being half distracted all the time.
I had to try and use my own brain to remember things.
I allowed things to sit in my head, to be pondered and thought over, not repeatedly Googled and analysed to death.
I enjoyed, for a brief moment in time, not knowing what was going on in other people’s lives at every single moment.
I could breathe.
I wish I could end this with ‘and I am now peaceful and happy all the time’ kind of ending. I can’t. Annoyingly, my phone has zoomed back into my life at full-throttle, and I’m not happy with it. I definitely need to find more of a balance, and I’m still working out what that looks like – given that, like most people, a lot of what I do revolves around having to be on social media, and I also quite enjoy certain aspects of the internet (*cough* The Motherload® *cough*)
The one thing I do now, though, is leave my phone at home, on my bedside table, on a Sunday. 24 hours of phone-free time.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, and constantly bombarded, and stressed all the time: maybe give it a go? Challenge yourself to leave it shut in a drawer for a day. Allow yourself to breathe.
And let me know what happens!