Hanging Up On Phone Addiction
*Hello! The following is an essay I wrote for my Composition 101 course (In case you didn't know, I am a (very part time) college student for the very first time.). I thought perhaps my thoughts might mirror yours and I would LOVE suggestions on how you've kept smartphones from taking over your life.
The cord was as taut as it could get, stretched around the corner of the kitchen into the powder bathroom where I sat in the darkness, on the floor, talking to my best friend about the sighting of her current crush. My mom knocked on the door, again, sending a muffled reminder that I had to get off the telephone. I said my reluctant goodbye, promising her I would meet up with her in front of the school the next morning and emerged from my conversation cocoon. I hung up the phone on its holder fastened to the wall and walked away.
Boy, I miss those days.
Back then, I could not have projected that someday I (and my children) would struggle to hang up the device we call a “phone” today, but not because I’m talking on it. Talking is the least of the activities we engage with on our smartphones, the small piece of technology that has, in a relatively short time frame, taking up a big part of our lives. According to Pew Research Center, “The vast majority of Americans – 96% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 81%, up from just 35% in Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership conducted in 2011.”
If a smartphone was simply for making and taking calls, this essay would be about how to extract my children from the powder room when they’re talking to their friend for too long. It is not, however, simply a phone. It is a gateway to every perceivable bit of information, desirous and otherwise. As a popular tech website defines it this way: “A smartphone combines a cellphone with email and Web, music and movie player, camera, camcorder, GPS navigation, voice recorder, alarm clock, flashlight, photo album, address book and a lot more. It is also a personal assistant that delivers information and answers questions about almost everything. A lot more personal than a personal computer, a smartphone is generally within reach at all times.” At all times, indeed.
My eldest child turned 14 in July and I remember the summer he was born I sheepishly decided to join a new(ish) platform called Facebook. I say sheepishly because my younger sister had informed me that this was a tool mainly for college-aged students who wanted to get to know other people on campus. As we now know, it quickly became much, much more than that. For years, it was the place on my computer where I got to share snapshots of our lives, find out what happened to MY college roommate, and occasionally ask for the best place to pick pumpkins (or the like). Slowly, silently, this novel and occasional engagement with social media-and others like it (such as Instagram) became something I could access on a hand-held phone and it stealthily worked its way into my subconscious as an addiction, even as until recently, I would have never seen it as such.
It is only now, as I have felt the demands of life pile up (illuminated in the backdrop of a world-wide pandemic) that the glow of the phone has felt more like an unhealthy attempt to numb the stress of it all. Is it too strong to suggest addiction? Not according to Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., author of Glow Kids, who writes, “ Perhaps most shocking of all, recent brain-imaging studies conclusively show that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a young person’s developing brain in the same way that cocaine addiction can.” He speaks of a developing brain, but even those brains that are already developed are prone to being rewired.
Furthermore, in a study by The Journal of Democracy, Ronald Deibert notes, “Social media stimulate us in a powerfully subconscious and hormonal way. They affect the human brain in the same way that falling in love does. Levels of oxytocin—sometimes called the “love hormone”—rise as much as 13 percent when people use social media for as little as ten minutes. People addicted to social media “experience symptoms similar to those experienced by individuals who suffer from addictions to substances or other behaviors”—such as withdrawal symptoms, relapse, and mood modification. Is it accurate to describe our embrace of social media as witting when that embrace has the properties of an addiction?”
If you look for it, there is a devastating amount of such findings tucked in and throughout the very internet the research proves dangerous when consumed in unhealthy doses (you do have to look though, the internet does not like its dirty laundry hanging out in the open). It is possible that if this technology weren’t held in our hands, and within close reach at all times, that the negative effects of this would be so damning. Still. I have my smart phone and for months, I’ve grown increasingly aware of the time-sucking, mind-dulling effect it is having on me and those of my children who have one.
Last week I verbally vomited all over my Instagram story, a place I rarely post to, but the culmination of bad tastes that social media and time in front a screen was giving me left me vulnerable to such an ordeal. I waxed on (and on) about how tired I was of the feeling that I’m a slave to my smartphone and how difficult it is to see my children beginning to treat their devices as if they were a third hand and an unalienable right. I bemoaned the days of a phone being attached to a cord and on the other end of the line there was another human whose tone and inflection I was actually listening to and reasoning with. I spoke of the heaviness of having to process all the opinions (from ridiculous to reasonable) on all the topics (from inane to important) and how they were cluttering my brain, clouding my reasoning and clogging my ability to sift information in a healthy way.
After spewing all my pent-up digital frustration, the response from my humble number of friends following my diatribe was immediate and immense. The overwhelming amount of messages in response were akin to a resounding “Amen” from a congregation of unwilling tech addicts who know better, want to do better and aren’t quite sure how to weed out the technology that has overtaken they and their family’s lives.
One friend sent me a link to an article by Thomas Goulding titled “How getting rid of my smartphone revolutionized my life”. In it he writes, “ Researchers are fairly successful uncovering the ocean of evidence that suggests living completely immersed in the “information ecosystem” of smartphone, internet and social media feed – as billions of people do every day worldwide- is seriously detrimental to one’s mental health and cognitive capacity.” He goes on to warn, “We lose the ability to deeply concentrate and contemplate. We have higher general levels of anxiety and emotional anesthesia. We struggle to retain memory in the same way, outsourcing this function to Google. Our minds are becoming more like automated data-processing machines, drained of creative dynamism and vibrancy.”
The fact that I can hardly write this piece without checking Instagram (my last hold out that is no longer on my phone, but still holding on in a laptop tab) tells me that this is not a problem easily solved. There are ways to establish healthy boundaries, such as no phones in bedrooms, no social media apps on the phone, etc. I’m open and researching best practices for keeping technology on a (tight) leash, but right now I am simply grateful I’ve been able to see the severity of the problem and to acknowledge that, even though others might be faring worse than I, an addiction is…addictive, no matter the severity. (In my research, I stumbled across the book “The Tech Wise Family” and it already has me reordering/refining my habits).
This summer our family spent a few weeks in the middle of nowhere in Maine. Sitting by a lake, with little to no coverage (thus my phone collecting dust on the dresser), I read an article titled “Pre-Digital Connectivity” in the July issue Down East Magazine which shed light to a little -known radio program still airing in a small circumference of the state. The writer described Phone Mart as “a 10-minute interlude that sociologists should study for the insight it offers into rural life, economics and the availability of snowplow blades. Phone Mart has been our social media since long before that social media.”
The article went on to describe the call in’s from a wide spectrum of people with an equally wide variety of needs. There are offers of firewood for sale, a reminder of the upcoming pork luncheon hosted by the Masons and a PSA reminding pet owners to bring their animals in before winter weather settles in. There was also the endearing request by an elderly woman who called in to ask (in a “thin crackling voice”) that someone send her a Valentine's Day card because she is just so lonely. Bless it all. The author concludes, “If sociologists were tuning in to Phone Mart, one thing they would be hard-pressed not to notice is how polite and humane the exchanges are”. Humane exchanges? In 2020? Imagine that!
I know we can not bring back our analog-based past in its entirety and that there is no choice but to be the adult and figure out a way to establish healthy, emotionally-optimal use of technology to our advantage and not our detriment. While I long for the days when we were tethered to each other by way of frequency waves and spiral cords, I still have the choice to hang up the aspects of my smartphone that keep me looking down and inward. Today, I hear the sound of knocking at the door of my conscience and I know it is time to put down the phone far more than I pick it up.
“Smartphone.” PCmag.com, 2020, www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/smartphone
“Mobile Fact Sheet.” PewResearch.org, June 12, 2019,
Kardaras PhD., Thomas. Glow Kids. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016
Deibert, Ronald J. "The Road to Digital Unfreedom: Three Painful Truths about Social Media." Journal of Democracy, vol. 30, no. 1, 2019, pp. 25-39. ProQuest, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.hacc.edu/docview/2177204183?accountid=11302, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.hacc.edu/10.1353/jod.2019.0002.
Crouch, Andy. The Tech-Wise Family, Baker Books, 2017. Kindle.
Burke, Michael. “Pre-Digital Technology.” Down East Magazine, July 2020, pp. 48-50