Confessions Of A Compulsive Smartphone Checker

You know those days when you feel like the universe is trying to tell you something?

For me, that was yesterday.

Seemingly everywhere I looked I saw articles about the impacts of technology. About how being overly connected to work emails, texts, etc. after hours can lead to increased sick leave and fatigue. About the disturbing number of times we check our smartphones each day. (I think it’s 10 zamillion. Approximately.) About how checking email obsessively, in an effort to seem responsive and on top of things, often results in a lack of productivity, because we’re unable to fully focus on other things.

I can relate (far too well) to all of the above.

I know I have an obsession with my technology. With staying connected at all times. Plugged in as much as possible. And it’s not like I’m some sunlight-deprived, holed-away-in-the-basement type. It’s just that this phone — this device that, in so many ways, makes life easier and more convenient — also has a tendency to keep me from being fully present at any given time.

I do it subconsciously. On the one hand, I’m fully aware that I check my phone far too frequently. (I know, Kevin. And I’m sorry!) But then I’ll find myself watching TV or out to dinner and reaching for my phone, reflexively looking to see if I have new emails, new Instagram likes, new texts. It’s silly.

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It makes me feel marginally better to know that technology and apps are created with this exact behavior in mind. Behaviorist B.F. Skinner found that to ignite compulsive behavior in rats all he had to do was reward the rats at varying times and in varying ways. The rat knows he’ll get rewarded at some point, but he’s not sure quite when or how much. The same holds true with us and those damn phones. We check and check and check because sometimes — wahoo! — we get an incredible text, or have 87 people like our Instagram post, or get an email with a new job offer. But so many other times? Nada. Or, it’s just that random email letting you know that there’s yet another sale at J. Crew. (I love you, J. Crew. But you send lots of emails.)

The thing is, we live in a technology-filled world. And I like it! I love being able to keep up with friends and family via social media, to glean great advice and recipes from fellow bloggers, to be able to work remotely when needed and not miss a beat. And yet I have this tendency to CHECK YOUR PHONE RIGHT NOW AND THEN RESPOND TO THAT EMAIL RIGHT THIS SECOND EVEN WHEN IT’S NOT REMOTELY AN EMERGENCY! (That was meant to imitate the voice in my subconscious, willing me to reach for my iPhone over and over and over and over and over again each day.)

So it’s all about trying to build a healthy relationship with this technology, knowing that it will continue to be an integrated part of my life. Where’s that line?

The best find during my “the universe is trying to send me a message about my technology usage VIA technology — whoa!” moment was this article by a political blogger who reached a point where he felt so overwhelmed with technology that he unplugged for a year, taking an unpaid sabbatical to try to get re-centered. It’s a long read, but worth it. It was hard at first, but in time he learned the beauty in calm. In being still and quiet and completely alone (as in, by himself WITHOUT the Internet in the palm of his hand). At the end of his year off, the author had to find a way to re-enter his job (which, as a blogger and social media influencer, was immersed in the Internet) but try to keep as many of the healthy, calmer, meditative habits he’d learned during his year off.

I also stumbled upon a few apps geared to help people disconnect. (Kind of funny — technology built to help keep you from technology.) Checky can help you track how often you check your phone, so you can start to be more aware of your behavior and hopefully pare it down from there. And then there’s Freedom, an app you can set to keep the Internet blocked for a given amount of time, allowing you to truly focus on other things (writing, strategy, etc.) distraction free. It’s $10, but seems well worth it to me.

All this to say, I’m hoping that by admitting my compulsive phone behavior I will be encouraged to improve it. (Accountability counts for something, right?)

I’m going to try to take breaks more throughout the workday. To leave my phone in another room when I’m home to avoid checking it all evening. To not worry about responding to every single email the very second they arrive in my inbox. To be more wholly present when I’m with people I care about.

Have any of you readers successfully achieved technology balance in your life? Things that help you live more in the moment and with less mindful online moments? I’d love to hear your approach, if so!


One thought on “Confessions Of A Compulsive Smartphone Checker

  1. I keep my phone on silent while I’m at work and probably 95% of the time, forget to switch it back to sound when I head home. Typically I just leave it in my purse and some nights completely forget about it until time for bed (my alarm). Works well for me, however, it typically isn’t a conscious choice, I just forget about it. The nights I do pull it out for one reason or another though, I end up checking it way too often, and for no good reason as well.

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