We all love a good smartphone, am I right? They’re great. Smartphones are like lifelines in a pocket. They’re packed with so much: all the people you speak to, your email, your photos, your messages, your bank accounts, your social media accounts, even your health information, and so on.
Every time your phone buzzes or rings, you’re sent into a sort of fight or flight response mode and feel a strong urge to pick it up and see what the buzz is all about. You may even be at the point where you operate in auto-pilot when it comes to your phone – picking it up and sifting through apps and messages without even realizing it.
Sound familiar? It’s funny that within a span of a few decades we went from calling from the car to calling from literally anywhere that there’s a signal. We went from deliberately checking email messages to email messages deliberately checking us.
This past weekend, I realized that my phone is kind of a prison. I realized that my phone often dictates how my days will turn out. And most of all, the very fact that I even own a phone gives people so much power over me. I mean, they have the power to know that because I have a smartphone and because they have my phone number, I’m always available.
Have you ever had someone call you and after you didn’t answer they texted you because they figured since you’re not available to speak, you’re probably available to text? Screw waiting for you to call them back! Some people might argue that they’re being polite but I call bullshit. They needed to contact you and were unable to get their fix of instant gratification so they tried a different method.
If you own a smartphone, you’re accessible to the world – full stop. Even if you don’t pick up your phone as soon as it rings, chances are you saw it ring which means now you have the task of calling someone back on your list of to-dos. And if you don’t answer that text, the person you left hanging will probably have a bone to pick with you.
When you have a smartphone, not being available to talk, text, or email has somehow become a personal attack on the person at the other end of that request. Not good.
How did we get here?
It was all so simple. Before phones were all-in-one mobile devices, they were just phones. And they were located in your house. Designed for talking to someone that wasn’t in your house with you. Then came the first version of the mobile phone: the car phone. Yes, I’m young but I’ve seen those old movies and TV shows. This was the first time people were able to get in touch with you while you were out running errands.
After that, people were able to take their mobile phone with them, although the size may have been ridiculously huge by today’s standards. Networks went from 1G, which were strictly for talking. Then came 2G, where you could send texts and transmit data. Next was 3G, where we started to see those huge screens that allowed you to surf the web and eventually stream videos. Then there was 4G, a lot faster than 3G, leading to smartphones basically doubling as laptops. Now, we have 5G, which is the fastest and most responsive of them all.
Real change happens when you’re not paying that much attention. Yes, there was a change in technology that we all noticed. But underneath that immediate, surface-level change, was an insidious change in the wiring of our brains when it came to how we interact with that technology.
And in comes the issue at hand: the addiction to the smartphone that has us chomping at the bit to answer every ping and ding that comes from those little electronic devices.
Has my phone made me too available?
If you’re here, probably. This is pretty subjective but in my experience, if your phone is causing you an unnecessary amount of anxiety or annoyance, you’re probably too available. If all of your notifications are turned on, you’re probably too available. If your phone is constantly distracting you from work or time with family and friends, you’re too available. If you feel like you need to bring your phone with you everywhere – even to the bathroom – you’re too available. If you’ve ever felt your phone vibrate or heard it ring without it actually doing so, well, you know the rest!
And so many people are in this same boat. Smartphone addiction is real and thriving within our society. And it facilitates this need for us to always be “on,” hyper-vigilant, or ready to respond to whatever pops up on our phones. I think fear of uncertainty plays a big role in being hyper-vigilant. I mean, wouldn’t you want to know what your friend called you for because they usually text? When my dad (hey, dad!) sends me a text that says “call me” – I immediately call. It’s usually nothing major, but at least I know what the heck it was all about.
And then there are those of us with a higher level of anxiety than others whose concern would be this: what if something bad happens or someone needs get in touch with me in an emergency? To this I would say: if there’s something wrong, you will know about it. Usually, your phone will ring more than once and if you have a do not disturb setting (more on this in a sec) on your phone, multiple calls and texts will bypass this.
How do I become less available on my phone?!
Glad you asked. It’s not easy, but it is really simple. One thing to note is that much of becoming less available is on YOU. I mean, you could tell people to stop calling and texting, but I imagine that wouldn’t go over well with some. It’s up to you to put boundaries in place for YOURSELF against your phone so that you’re not so attached to it.
Here are some ways to help you become less available on your phone without being a jerk:
- Turn on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode. I’ve only had Apple phones, so I don’t know if others have the Do Not Disturb feature but it is GOLDEN. If you want to stop being disrupted by pings, dings, and bright screens, turn on Do Not Disturb. This is a feature that silences all notifications and calls until you turn it off or until it’s scheduled to turn off. Now – if you’re worried about emergencies, the feature will be bypassed if someone calls or texts multiple times in a row. Alternatively, you can put your phone in airplane mode if you need to focus and get something done. Just don’t forget to turn airplane mode off once in a while (unless you never want to be reached!).
- Push notifications are a no-no. I used to have all my notifications turned on. It got to a point where I would be on my phone for a specific reason, and end up using it way longer and not accomplishing what I needed to because I got sucked into clicking on notifications. When I became sick and tired of being interrupted by notifications, I turned them all off. There are different types of notifications: sounds, badges, and banners that pop up even when you’re not in an app. Turning them off is a good option if you don’t want to be completely unavailable.
- Put your phone
downaway. Lots of people will tell you to put your phone down. But since it’s right there and you’ll pick it up 2 minutes later, I’m telling you to put your phone away. Learning to be without your phone is a good way to become less available on your phone. Often, I’ll put my phone in the drawer of the nightstand in my bedroom and leave it there. I’m always surprised at how quickly I completely forget that my phone even exists.
- Pick up your phone with intention. Don’t aimlessly pick up your phone. When you pick up your phone and start looking around, opening apps and what not without a plan, you run the risk of: 1. getting sucked in a vortex that’ll be hard to get out of, and 2. seeing things you cannot unsee. When you pick up your phone without intention, you haven’t given your brain a chance to prime itself for whatever may be in your messages, emails, or social media. Breathe, think, then act.
Not only will these things allow you to become less available to the whole world, you’ll also reduce the amount of time you’re spending on your phone so you can get busy living. There’s so much happening things in the world around you, don’t miss it!