I spent a lot of time over the past year thinking about how I use my smartphone. There are several reasons for this, but the biggest one is that I have a toddler who is increasingly aware of the world. I don’t want him to grow up and believe that I’m more interested in my phone than I am in him.
It didn’t require much time to recognize how dependent I am on my phone. Odds are, you are too. A simple test is to try going without it for 24 hours – leave it in your closet turned off for instance. If you find yourself struggling to get through the day, constantly reaching for the phone, or getting nervous when you have a few minutes to wait or before going to bed, you might be in the same boat as me.
I’m not here to say that using a smartphone is bad – they can be amazing tools and simplify life in many ways. You’re probably reading this on a smartphone. But like most good things, too much can become a real problem. Today I’m going to talk about how smartphones can negatively affect our lives, and also share some strategies for curing the addiction.
What’s the Problem?
Regardless of how you feel about smartphones and the social media, games, and apps that they come with, the addiction to these devices is a growing problem in our society. A former VP of facebook, for instance, recently expressed feelings of deep guilt about the way social media is changing the world.
He said, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem…This is a global problem.”
I think it’s also worth pointing out that smartphone addiction is not just a problem for millenials or teenagers – if you look around you will notice people of all ages glued to their phones.
Here are a few reasons smartphone use is becoming such a problem:
Smartphones actually are addictive: You may not realize it, but smartphones share an important quality with alcohol, smoking, and gambling. They release dopamine into the brain, which can be a very addictive experience. Simon Sinek explains the issue really well in the following video:
Something that Sinek points out is that, we put age restrictions on gambling, drinking, and smoking because of how they affect the brain. We don’t have those same restrictions on smartphones.
Smartphones provide a poor alternative to problem solving: Again, Sinek points out the way dopamine dulls the mind and makes you feel better (or numb). This is the reason many alcoholics turn to a bottle instead of a friend or confidant when they’re struggling. The bottle makes them feel better, and frankly, it’s easier.
The same can be true about smartphones. That bright LED screen is almost hypnotizing, social media likes makes you feel better, and simple games distract you from the real issues. While distracting yourself from issues isn’t always a problem, it becomes a problem when those issues are never dealt with or resolved.
Smartphones dull the imagination: It’s amazing how quickly I whip out my smartphone when I’m bored. Even if I have a mere 15-20 seconds to wait on something, it’s on opportunity to look at my phone.
As someone who loves writing, creating, and performing, I miss those opportunities for imagination. The simple, quiet moments are great for creative thinking and exploring the world around me.
Smartphones can distract from joy: CNN recently published an article comparing to photos of Disney tourists in 2010 and 2017 (It’s hard to believe how quickly smartphones have changed our lives). The photos were taken by the Theme Park guy, and as you can see, people in 2017 don’t quite have the same level of joy as they did in 2010.
You can see the photo was taken in the same location, and it was even for the same parade. The Theme Park guy goes on to say, “Claiming that smartphones facilitate human interaction is like saying slot machines facilitate wealth creation or cigarettes promote relaxation.”
Smartphones can distract from people: I really don’t want to be the guy who spends a dinner with friends looking at his phone the whole time. Or who spends the entire football game looking at twitter instead of talking to the people I’m in the room with.
I’ve heard it said that we are the most connected generation ever, but we’re also the loneliest. Smartphones can be great for connecting you to other people, but they can’t replace the need we have for meaningful relationships.
Curing the Addiction
There is probably more to say about the problems that smartphones can cause in your life (and that I’ve noticed them causing in my own). But instead, I’d rather start focusing on ways to cure the addiction. Some of these things I’ve already started implementing, and others I plan to in 2018.
Put the phone down and away: Tom Glavine is one of the best baseball pitchers of all-time. He once spoke about his strategy and it was relatively simple: put the ball down and away from the hitter because it is harder for them to hit it.
The same principle applies to your phone. If you’re hanging out with other people, you don’t need to have it in your hand or in your pocket, so put it down. Putting it down on the table in front of you, however, probably isn’t enough. You also need to put it away. Leave it in the car, leave it in another room, do whatever works because when your phone is down and away, it’s going to be a lot harder use it.
I’m even thinking of designating a spot in my home as the phone spot – when I get home I’ll put it there, out of normal reach. I can still hear it if someone calls, but I won’t be tempted to look at it every 48 seconds.
Reduce the Apps you have on your phone: Got any apps you’re addicted to? Just take it off the phone. I had to do this with facebook last year – I just kept finding myself scrolling aimlessly for no particular reason. If I really need facebook I can still login through a browser, but removing the app has really helped. Which apps are taking up too much of your time?
Charge your phone in a different room when you sleep: Smartphones have repeatedly proven to be detrimental to a good night sleep, and yet for countless people, their smartphone is the last thing they shut off. If you’re married, smartphones in bed aren’t great for your relationship either.
Sleep and healthy relationships are key to living an abundant life. Not only that, but sometimes the night is the best time for hearing from God and thinking through your life issues. While it may be easier to turn to dopamine, it won’t help you grow as a person. The answer is simple – charge your phone in a different room (or at least on the other side of your room instead of right next to your bed).
Ask yourself, “why am I taking this picture?” I get frustrated at live events when people are so obsessed with taking pictures that they don’t actually experience the event. I have nothing against pictures, and in fact our family take gazillions of them.
But how often do you actually go back and look at your photos? It’s important to ask yourself, before you whip out your camera phone, why you want a picture. Is it to help you remember the event in years to come? Is it to share the moment with a loved one who couldn’t make it? Or is it because everyone else is taking pictures? Or do you just want some likes on Instagram?
Just know that when you watch things through your camera phone, you will miss some of what’s actually happening. So take the photos quickly if you have a valid reason, or don’t take them at all.
Remember why you actually have the smartphone: I’ve considered getting rid of my smartphone all together, but it is actually a very useful tool when used correctly. I travel a lot, and the travel apps greatly reduce stress. Social media is great for staying connected with our friends living overseas.
Ultimately, I would argue that smartphones should be used to simplify life and facilitate relationship. The danger, of course, is that smartphone addiction complicates life and robs relationship of its power. Smartphones are great when they bring people together through messaging, but once you’re together, put the phone down and away.
Seek out authentic relationships: Smartphones lead to great connectivity, but poor relationships. It’s hard to stop doing something unless there is a better alternative, so seek out stronger relationships and you will find less of a need for your smartphone. Seek accountability from others close to you who will encourage you to stay off your phone.
The world is desperate for people like you. You can be a light in dark places when you put relationships with others ahead of your smartphone.
Look for satisfaction in the Lord: Philippians 4 offers a much more satisfying answer to the anxieties of life than dopamine from smartphones, instagram likes, and fruit ninja. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.“
Remember that your identity comes from the Lord, and not from your phone. When life becomes hard, turn your eyes to Jesus instead of a screen. In him is more than just numb indifference, in him we find healing and wholeness.