You are relaxing on the balcony on a sunny Sunday afternoon in early Spring. You dip an Oreo into your steaming cup of coffee and manage to pop it into your mouth before it disintegrates. The leaves have just started to sprout out of the branches and the once barren trees begin to show life again. You take a deep breath, breathing in the fresh spring air and without thinking grab your telephone. The previously peaceful setting is now tarnished.
The act of grabbing our phone when the moment goes silent has become a habit for so many of us. We look at our phones as a way of taking a break from whatever we are doing, sometimes even using our phones as a break from using our computers!
Sadly, this act of turning to our phones doesn’t allow us to relax as we would like to. The feeling of constant connectedness can be stressful, as we can’t seem to get away from text messages, Whatsapp group chats, private messages over various social media platforms and of course emails. We are always connected to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Even when we turn our notifications off, we still know the messages are there.
Sometimes if we don’t answer quickly enough, we have to answer to frustrated friends who were looking for immediate attention. We feel the pressure to live based on other people’s time frames. A reply the next day can be seen as a personal betrayal. So we leave our notifications on. We do our duty and answer. While we’re at it, we check our Facebook news feed. We might not post anything, we simply scroll down until we’ve reached posts that we’ve already seen.
But we’re not satisfied. Our hunger is not satiated. We hop over to Buzzfeed and see what’s new there. If we find a list with 23 photos of random objects that promise to help us to be better at life we click and scroll down again. We click on anything we find interesting but we have trouble actually reading the text. We can’t concentrate enough to read. We can only scan.
After a few minutes we’ve come to the end of the new posts again. It’s over, but we’re not feeling relaxed yet. Gotta find something else to look at. We don’t want to go back to the real world where we have to face our thoughts and our problems. Navigate to 9gag — they always have more to look at. Scroll down. Scroll down. Scroll down.
We decide to check Facebook again to see if there is anything new. There is. A high school friend just announced that she is pregnant… again. We click on her page. She has recently renovated the kitchen. We always wanted a kitchen like that. Our kitchen is dirty. Her career seems to be going really well. She has 960 friends. We are sitting in our pyjamas at 4:00 in the afternoon eating gummy bears and Nutella. We start to seriously question our life choices.
We question our choice of University, ‘Why didn’t I major in business instead of getting a freaking arts degree?‘ We question quitting that first job, ‘I could have been the boss by now if I had just stayed there, but NO I had to follow my dreams‘ We question failed relationships, ‘If I hadn’t wasted so many years with that asshole I could have had a baby by now as well. Instead, I’m over 30 and everyone I know already has children.‘
The problem is we don’t question the most important life choice: The choice to avoid living by constantly sedating ourselves with electronic pacification.
So what if that girl from high school seems to have it all together on a social media platform. A person’s Instagram usually does not contain photo documentation on the pile of dishes they have sitting in their kitchen, or the itchy mosquito bite that they scratched and got infected. The internet is full of inauthentic window dressing. It may seem as if everyone else has their shit together but they are not all as perfect as they seem to be. More importantly, you are not as bad off as you feel you are.
Smart phones are supposed to help us to do things: take photos and listen to music and download apps that will track our running time. But sometimes they hold us back from doing. They ease our boredom, but keep us placated, standing in the way of living our best life. Maybe the reason the girl from high school seems to have her shit together is that she isn’t feeling sorry for herself on a Sunday afternoon with a smart phone in one hand and a jar of Nutella in the other.
While it is not necessary to get rid of our phones altogether, taking phone-free weekends or afternoons once in a while may help to kill our dependency on them. The next time you feel yourself reaching for your phone in a moment of boredom, think about what else you could do instead. Take a deep breath. Pick up a book. Go outside for a walk. Do a crossword puzzle. Allow your mind to rest by doing something that is less wearying. When you do pick up your phone, make sure it’s because you intend to do so, rather than simply reacting to a habit of killing time.