If push came to shove, I’m betting that the vast majority of you reading this right now would be able to give up a vice or two for at least a month, be it booze or chocolate or online shopping. I’m sure that some of you already do this regularly, whether for Drynuary or Lent or to fit into a fancy dress. And, there may be a good number of you who have chosen a more mindful and sober life, eschewing things like alcohol, tobacco, processed foods, or pills. But, what if you were asked to give up your Smartphone for at least thirty days?
Where I live in Singapore, we are some of the most digitally addicted people on the planet, boasting the highest smartphone penetration rate on the globe. Nomophobia- the fear of being without one’s mobile phone- prevails. About the size of a tarot card, these inanimate wizards gently pull us out of ourselves and into a shiny, filtered future crafted primarily by strangers we seem to know and trust. Our smartphones offer the ultimate in escapism- conscious and yet unconscious, responsive and yet aloof, continuously shifting its tricks to the tune of our moods. This is precisely why the Smartphone is a potential disaster for anyone susceptible to an addiction… which includes all of us.
I’ve been addicted to something for the majority of my life since birth, beginning with the wrinkled thumb of my left hand, which morphed my two front teeth into diving boards. The thumb sucking eventually gave way to food, cigarettes, love, booze, and benzos, all of which offered velvety rabbit holes of escapism where I could curl up and see the world as what I wished it to be instead of what it actually was. That’s the sucky part about addiction- the initially warm and fluffy den of it all eventually makes you feel like you are ever so gradually boiling to death.
Which is why, when I felt those telltale edges of anxiety creep up six months ago after a strong six years of sobriety, I began snooping around to see what kind of pit I’d fallen into. The first thing I did was make a list of the evidence by asking a simple question: what was I seeking to do in my life that I wasn’t achieving and WHY? There were about thirty things on that list, large and small, with a common theme woven throughout- I was failing at achieving most of my goals due to shortcomings in time management.
Next, I began journaling each morning upon waking in an effort to tap into which emotions were leading me astray. Some of the usual characters began to pop up- fear, insecurity, and dread- but the one that was particularly interesting was “overwhelm,” something I had worked so hard to overturn and which- given how I had reordered my life since exiting the corporate grind- had no place in my being. Finally, I looked at where my time and my emotions were being directed to, immediately realizing that I was gripped by an addiction both insidious and yet acceptable enough to be seen merely as a necessary evil of our era.
My Smartphone, that simple little device I’d used to control the flow of my daily life, was now controlling me. Endless hours were being siphoned into text messages and Whatsapps, beckoning reactions instead of responses as they filtered in with their tinkling, sparkly bells. The enjoyment of a meal or a vacation could only be confirmed upon Instagramming it. Texts like, “what’s better: quinoa or barley?” were suddenly urgent matters; staying on top of emails became a futile game.
By the time I realized what had happened, some of the damage had already been done. I could no longer spend great swathes of hours alone without scrambling to find something to distract me. My thought patterns and language were changing- less rhythm, more sound byte. And, all the things deemed most important were being interrupted continuously by the crude punctuations of beeps, bells and buzzing from something that had supposedly been designed to support daily life, rather than overtake it . So, on June 29th, I removed the heart of my iPhone- its SIM Card- and tucked the deadened device in a drawer, replacing it with a grey Nokia bar phone that does little more than tell the time.
Since then, life has taken on a very different pace, each day marked by flow, trips and slips. I’ve written the first half of a meaty book, poured my evenings into Yogananda’s written works, and spent more time staring into my third eye- as well as the sky. I’ve also overlooked two appointments, missed birthdays and events, and felt the embarrassing pull of FOMO (fear of missing out) each time I’ve logged onto Facebook from my home computer. I’ve lost a few social media friends, perhaps because I’m no longer constantly engaged, and some of my true friends have heartily complained as well.
All the inconveniences are sorely felt- no Spotify on the go, no camera to capture a special moment, no media streams to distract me while I’m waiting in line. But, so are the benefits- the freedom of a wandering mind, a happier husband, feeling less like a servant or a consumer and more like a human being who can once again create something beyond the ephemeral, or just sit quietly with whatever’s going on between the ears.
It’s been nearly a month without my Smartphone and I’m just not ready to rejoin the rest of the developed world yet. I still feel those edges of anxiety boiling beneath the surface which makes me wonder if I can go back to it at all without tumbling into the hole again. Several people have said, “just delete your apps,” or “have more self control” or “leave the iPhone at home,” and I cannot help but wonder if they’re not just other addicts staring down into those tiny panes of glass, those windows of denial.
The truth is, I’m still hooked. I peek over at the shiny apps gleaming from my friend’s Samsung Galaxy, conceptualize a slick photo or video, lament the fact that I’m no longer rowing on those rivers of distraction. I nearly salivate when I think about holding it in my hands again, or tucking it into a pocket with the earphone hanging out, or even scheduling an appointment without having to write it down in one of those silly diaries from the caveman days.
Perhaps we’re all cyborgs now, I wonder. Instead of thinking of it as an addiction, I could consider it an extension, a plug-in with a few major bugs. Here’s the thing- we’ll find a way to justify whatever pulls us out of the listlessness and longing that comes with being human. That’s addiction at its core- a pursuit of self-soothing that eventually morphs its victims into muted, mindless characters enslaved by their fix of choice. Addiction or extension, I’m going to pass on the zombification… at least for now. One day at a time.
Would you ever consider giving up your mobile phone? How about the Internet, or even Facebook? How long do you think you could live without these technologies? Leave your thoughts below; I'd love to hear from you. Did you like this post? If so, please share the love!