It’s stuffed in my back pocket, my purse, or in the front pocket of my backpack at all times. I can’t let it out of my sight. I look at it every few minutes, just in case I’ve missed something important.
Like most other people in this world, I have an unhealthy relationship with my iPhone.
I recently came across a study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri School of Journalism that monitored subjects as they worked on a word search puzzle — once with their phone and once without. The results were frightfully clear. As someone’s phone rang just out of reach, not only did their blood pressure and heart rate rise, but they weren’t able to focus as well on the task at hand.
“The results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state,” says Russel Clayton, lead author of the study.
iPhone owners should then keep their devices close by during daily activities, the authors of the study suggest, in order to cognitively perform better.
“Smartphone” just took on a whole new meaning.
What does this mean for our culture? And (more importantly) what does this mean for me? I know my iPhone takes way too much of my time and attention. I see the problem, but yet… where’s my phone?
So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I needed to be OK with forgetting my phone in my room or being able to have a conversation without feeling antsy about the buzzing in my purse.
Shamefully, within two seconds of this mental decision, my mind began to race. What day would be best for a phone fast? What if there is an emergency? What if someone really needs me?
My subconscious had said it all. I needed some space from my iPhone.
Instead of going cold turkey, I decided to leave my phone home during class where it had become an easy way to break up the time. I lasted for about an hour; then, I started getting antsy. As I sat in the lecture, all my previous excuses flooded my brain. I began to think about all the things that I could be missing — maybe my meeting after class had been cancelled or my roommate was locked out of our apartment. And then I thought about that study. I was turning into a robot who couldn’t cognitively focus on a lecture because my iPhone was gone.
The return to my phone was, admittedly, quite unexciting. Along with getting one Facebook notification, I discovered the cyber world had continued to go on without me. And I had survived.
My second attempt was a bit longer. I woke up to the alarm on my phone, turned it over on my nightstand and then went about my business for the next four hours, sans phone. I was a bit surprised to find that four hours went astonishingly fast. I thought very little about my phone, text messages, or checking my Instagram.
On my third try, I decided to turn my phone off all together. I was surprised at how liberated I felt. Caught up in the moment, I turned off my Internet connection and my music, too. I sat with nothing but the cold night sneaking through my window. A silently wild moment dawned on me, like I was alone in the trees without anyone even aware I was there — so present, yet so unconnected to everything. And it was OK.
As invigorating as my phone fasts was, the reality is, I will not be tossing it anytime soon. As a soon-to-be university grad, I am in the business of “figuring my life out.” I use my phone to check emails from potential employers and new job postings on LinkedIn. It’s my tool for staying current in a time where I need to be on my game. So how do I do both? How do I balance this tension of what’s necessary, without it becoming all-consuming?
It all comes down to moderation, creating boundaries and forming healthy habits. We’ve adapted to being dependent on our devices. And being steamrolled by our culture’s habits is not a good enough excuse to live by. If you don’t like being so reliant on your phone, make a change. Create new patterns by initiating a habit of going unplugged, setting up boundaries, or starting a weekly phone fast.
We are creatures that adapt, change, and progress — we can’t help but move with the times. The challenge is making sure that technology does not get the best of us. We own our iPhones, they shouldn’t own us.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Ernesto De Quesada.