“Jenny don’t change your number, 867-5309…” ~ Tommy Tutone

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So, I got a book on my good ole’ Kindle this morning and sat down to read just a couple of chapters.  Instead, I ended up reading the entire book in 1 sitting.  It’s called “How to Break up with Your Phone” by Catherine Price and it’s a fascinating, but scary look at how addicted we are to our cell phones.  Unfortunately, even though I have always prided myself on not being tethered to my phone that much, I was quite surprised to realize how much I really am.

Take a look-see at this info from PsychGuides.com

  • 60% of college students in the U.S. consider themselves to be addicted to their phones (60% peeps…that’s HUGE!)
  • 71% of people sleep with their phones in bed (OK…that’s me because I listen to an audio book when I fall asleep and I’m jolly well not sleeping with anything else these days)
  • 35% of people think of their cell phones first when they wake up and only 10% think of their partners (so our phones are on our minds more than the people we LOVE?  Hmmm…)
  • 36% of people check their phones constantly (bugs the shit out of me, particularly during a meal) and 54% of young adults do (aren’t young adults people too 🙄)?
  • 44% of us say we couldn’t go a day without our phones.  ONE day.  Sheesh.

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I remember when I got my first phone and was so excited.  O’s dad, O and I went to the Best Buy in Wichita (we lived in Hutchinson for a few years) and bought the ‘newest’ device on the market:  a BAG phone (for my younger peeps, this was literally a phone in a briefcase style bag…ask your folks).  The set-up only took 6 hours (I swear on ma’s good name 😳)  because it was such a new thing, NO one knew quite what they were doing.  We were actually in the store for so long that the sales workers were making friends with O as he was toddled around the aisles.  Someone even asked me if I had met him yet, but since he was getting grouchy and grubby by this time (as was I), I said ‘no’.  Sorry son.  Anyhoot, the was an amazing technological marvel and Hubby said, in a very sappy voice, that he was getting it for me in case I had trouble when I was commuting to grad school every night.  Awwww…that sounded great:  if I needed help, I’d be able to get it quickly.  Right?

Wrong.  Here’s what I would have had to do to get my ‘quick’ help:  plop the magnetic antennae on the top of my wood paneled van, turn the phone on while it was plugged into the cigarette lighter which allowed it to move about 2 feet, get out my handy chart of roaming codes which was typed in 5 point font and figure out where the fuck (sorry, ma 🙄) I was on the highway in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, punch in said code to see if I could get a ‘roam’ signal, wait until the phone beeped that a signal was found, punch in our home number, and pray the signal didn’t disappear before Hubby answered which would have been a 1/1000 chance since he was most likely playing a video game (another high tech item) with ear phones on.  Now, if I had been in wreck I would have had to do all of this with a fresh concussion, blood dripping from my forehead while puking in the passenger seat since that’s what I do when I see blood dripping from my forehead.  Wow.  That phone was well worth the money for my peace of mind.  An easier way I could have gotten help would have been to crawl the 40 miles home which would have taken less time and effort on my part.  Just sayin’.

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Anyhoot, when my son and I got matching CELL phones a few years later we were so excited because we found out it could actually take a picture on the 1″ screen!  (BTW, he was in Jr. High and you should have seen his hair.  He went through a phase where he refused to have it cut and because it’s so curly, it looked like he had a crows nest on top of his head. 😬).  Anyway, a picture from a phone that closed in half?  OMG!  There was no way technology could get any better than this.  After all, it only took 10 minutes to type out a text one letter at at time.  When ma learned to text (Lord help me…sis and I still fight over who has to help her with her technology needs) she’d send it and then immediately call me to see if I got it.  I would say:  “Ma.  You are defeating the purpose of the text if you are just going to call me anyway.  So, just call me in the first place.”  Then ma would reply:  “OK, you don’t want to talk to me.  I understand I’m just an old lady with nothing to say.”  My response?  “Ma, dammit, just CALL me and quit texting!  I love you and want to yack (sorta) but for fuck sakes, having texts and calls coming in every 20 minutes is a nightmare!”

Then, the smartphone came along.  The screen was so big and in color!  Holy crap!  Then, there were these things called ‘apps’ which I had no idea what they were.  So, for the first week after getting my smartphone, I just looked at it and texted ma on a regular keyboard.  My son looked at my phone one day and asked where the hell my apps were and I said I didn’t know what they were in the first place.  Very patiently (not really, he was kind of an ass), he showed me how to ‘download’ (sounded naughty to me) these app things so I could play games and get my e-mail and do this thing called “Facebook” which was going to make my life so much richer than it’s ever been before.  I went nuts and downloaded every free app I could find.  Then I used 3 of them.  (Confession:  I STILL have no idea how to play Candy Crush and earn ‘candies’.  Maybe it just goes against my principle of destroying anything that’s yummy.  It may be a psychological issue.)

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ABC Australia

Fast forward to today and 5 smartphones later and guess what?  My life ain’t richer.  In fact, it seems a bit more empty to me now.  After all of this texting, messaging, Facebooking, Twittering, Instagramming, e-mailing, etc. I don’t feel any more connected to people and in fact, I actually feel less connected.  Plus, after having installed a screen time tracker, I found out I spend a LOT more time on my phone than I had thought and research shows I’m not alone in this:  most people underestimate their screen time too.  When I see the number of hours a week I’ve spent looking at this 5″ screen, I think that I could have painted my living room like I want to do.  Or, I could have gotten my bike out of the garage and ridden it around town.  I could have planted some more flowers in the back yard or read a couple of the books I have that I just don’t have ‘time’ to get too.  I could have made some jewelry to give as presents or organized my closet.  I could have done a lot that would actually have served a purpose…instead of looking at a screen and doing what?  Not much.

So why do we do it?  Why do we waste time on these devices doing things that really don’t mean a lot in the long run?  Easy answer?  Because we are ‘addicted’ in a lot of ways.  Longer answer?  Here goes.  Leaders in the study of how smartphones keep us coming back for more and more illustrate very clearly that companies find ways to change the way our brain looks at and responds to various cues that are constantly out there.  Ramsey Brown of Dopamine labs calls this brain hacking and his company is hired to work with others to make their online content as ‘addictive’ as possible.   Tristan Harris, a previous Google employee, says how our smartphones are like slot-machines.  If we scroll enough, interact enough, and play enough, we’ll be rewarded with likes, emojis, ‘streaks’, followers, etc.  It’s like gambling and we get a squirt of dopamine when we come across something we like…when we ‘win’!  If I scroll through Facebook a bit longer, maybe I’ll see something really really interesting…and there it is: a video of a baby elephant (my downfall 🐘).  And if I play this game just a tad more, maybe I’ll move up a level and be respected by all.  That’s why scrolling is actually used as opposed to other ways to present info…so we keep going and going until we are satisfied, for the moment at least.

Larry Rosen, psychology professor at California State University, talks about how our phones raise anxiety levels by increasing the release of cortisol to where we get almost panicky if we DON’T check our phones often because we’re thinking about what we might we be missing out on.  Sound crazy?  Vow not to look at your phone for an hour and then leave the sound on.  Every chime of a message coming in or a notification popping up will make most people have to consciously force themselves not to look at their phone, and it’s easy to see just how anxious that makes them.  I see this with my students in class all the time when I let them know I don’t want phones out while I’m lecturing (call me old-fashioned, but I think this is rude).  And when I’m with someone (and yes, even you ma 😐) and a text comes through, they’ll say: “Oh…just let me check this quickly.”  Or, they pick up their phone like a robot programmed to do so, without realizing they haven’t actually made the conscious choice to do it.  It pings…you look.  Simple as that.  (The best source for all of this info is a 60 Minutes report by Anderson Cooper called Brain Hacking).

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Ivan Pavlov and his conditioning experiment.

Think about texts.  That little chime tells us someone out there is connecting with us, and who could it be? Is it someone proclaiming their everlasting love to you (in my case, nope 🙄)?  Is it someone who needs your help for an emergency (probably not and wouldn’t 911 be a better choice anyway)?  Maybe it’s your friend sharing the gossip they heard and swore they would never tell anyone about that you just gotta hear.  Regardless, we HAVE to look.  We’re conditioned to look!  It’s like Pavlov’s dogs:  we hear the chime or feel the vibration or see the screen light up, and we salivate!  We respond.  In other words, the phone is in control of us…not the other way around!  When you think about that, it’s actually pretty scary.

Maybe because I’m so old, I want to fight against this more than I have.  I want to really accomplish things…not look at things.  I want to make stuff…not look at stuff others have made.  I want to connect with a ‘real’ someone…not see another pic of them as I scroll through my feed.  And think about that term – feed.  It’s like our phones feed our need for something to do.  Are we that unable to entertain ourselves that our phone has to ‘feed’ us stuff to sustain us?  What happened to days outside working in the yard or setting up a badminton game or taking a long walk with your partner?  What happened to laying on the couch with a couple of library books?  What happened to starting a new hobby and learning to make something special?  What happened to baking in the kitchen and having a special dessert for dinner that night?  What happened to having a jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen table that everyone in the family works on?

But most importantly, what happened to thinking these things weren’t enough, but that a screen is?  And our phones are just 1 screen of the many we have.  Add laptops, iPads, and smart TV’s in the mix, and it’s a wonder we get anything done off a screen.

To be honest, I know I couldn’t ever give up my cell phone completely since it’s the only way I have to talk to ma and sis and other family when they want to natter.  I also feel better having it when I’m on the highway in case I need help, while it’s also necessary for work.  So I guess the question for me is this:  how do I balance the use of it against the ‘want’ of it?  How do I use it as a tool instead of it using me to buy more, scroll more, click more?

I’d ponder this a bit more if I could, but here’s the thing:  my screen just lit up and it’s Kohl’s telling me my new shoes are ready to pick up, Subway sent me a new text coupon plus I have to know the sandwich of the day, I haven’t checked Facebook yet to see if the pic of me and Dottie got anymore likes, and last night when I was scrolling I saw a great shirt advertised at 80% off.  How can I pass up that deal?  Hmmmm.  Maybe I should try to find out.  Maybe we all should.

Kristi xoxo