[Once again, I’d like to warn you that this post gets a little deeper than my typical skim-the-surface-ness, and there is only one picture, which you’ve already seen. No offense taken if you don’t care about my existential angst.]
Before anyone gets into a tizzy, allow me to be clear: I am not a luddite. I think technology can be worthwhile, enjoyable, a means of human connection, and even a tool of evangelization. Also, I am an Apple devotee. I think their products are inventive, user-friendly, and just plain cool. I absolutely loved my iPhone. More than merely for entertainment, it was sincerely useful for me. I have encouraged many to get one, and I will probably continue to do so.
That said, about a month ago, I reverted back to an “old school,” non-data phone.
Why, oh why, would I do such a thing?
The practical reason was money. I wanted to switch cellphone carriers to join Ryan’s plan, and it would have required me to buy a new phone. Plus, Ryan cut himself off from his Droid last year, and we would have had to upgrade his plan to include data. As a one-income family, we’re finding ourselves having to make more sacrifices, and this just seemed like a fairly obvious one to embrace.
However, more than just the monetary aspect, there were deeper motivations to going cold turkey off a data phone. In my couple years of ownership, my use of it varied in both type and duration. Recently, my frequency of use had been dramatically increasing. Last Lent, I didn’t give it up completely, but I was working on being more temperate. I think that went well, but let’s be honest, it’s hard to be temperate with something that is literally next to you every minute of the day.
Even more, it started becoming more than just something I was checking too often; I had slowly begun using it as an escape. As I alluded last week, these past few months have been very stressful for me. There were some external, concrete reasons for this– moving, Ryan’s work schedule and school, a little bout of sickness, Philomena becoming more mobile. And yet, it was also a deeper stress that I can’t quite pinpoint, but I know it involved some insecurity on my part and my gaze focusing on things other than the Person of Christ. [And really, if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t that the source of all angst?] Almost unconsciously, when I started feeling overwhelmed, it became almost-habit to pull out my little iPhone friend and check Facebook, blogs, instagram, twitter, etc. Instead of becoming a means of communication and entertainment, it had become merely a diversion from reality.
Something I’ve struggled with for quite some time is being present in the moment, especially to those around me. I have one of those minds that is very cluttered and is constantly thinking about twelve different things. It is an effort to focus on a particular conversation and be fully aware of the person in front of me. This is a bit easier when the people with whom I’m engaging can actually talk, but as a mother of someone who’s verbal skills haven’t gone beyond nondescript syllables [including the heart-melting “Ma-Ma”], it is so easy to let my thoughts wander and get into my own mental world, instead of being truly present and aware of her. Obviously, this is unavoidable in some sense, but when I had this nice little black box next to me with endless distractions with the swipe of a finger, it made it more and more tempting not to even attempt to be present to her. Or more often than I care to admit, when I’d be with Ryan at home or in the car, I’d numbly nod “uh, huh” to his words, as I was reading something like an in-depth article on the correct method for making ghee.
I don’t want to give this impression that I was some technological zombie who ignored my baby and my husband. I was probably engaged over 90% of the time, but that other 10% is still important: it is time that I will never get back.
While I was making this decision, I had one of those motherly hormone-induced moments in which I tearily imagined Philomena as an older child, a teen-ager, a young adult, and my heart was struck with just how precious these moments with her are [soooo totally cliche and trite, I know, I know…], especially the countless hours spent nursing. It was so easy to feed her while catching up on my overflowing google reader, chock-full of Catholic commentary blogs, mommy blogs, food blogs, pop culture blogs, news blogs. And yet, the older she gets, I am sure I will long for those quiet, intimate moments that will never be repeated.
A while back I was watching a friend’s older children, and I took them to the park. It was a beautiful day, so there were quite a few parents on the sidelines watching the kids play. I observed a number of them check their phones frequently and for long durations. I even saw a few kids yelling and clamoring for their parent’s attention. Surprisingly for my judge-y self, my first reaction wasn’t condemnation [I mean, there really are many legitimate reasons to be on your phones while kids are playing- important work email, contacting someone who you’re supposed to be meeting at said park, a friend in need, etc.], but instead all I could think was, “oh, wow. That’s going to be me some day. Please, please don’t let it be.”
I heard a story on the radio once about how the reactions in our brains when we receive an alert from our phones are similar to when people do drugs. With every beep or vibration with a text message, email, etc., your brain releases certain pleasure chemicals that can lead to an addiction to these alerts. [I am pretty sure this is the interview I remember.] I think that “addiction” is a strong word to describe my reliance on the iPhone, especially in light of true struggles with serious addictions, but I can definitely see how it does affect my mind and the need for instant gratification.
So, basically, I wanted to cut myself off, before I became someone I didn’t want to be. Lest you think I’m a perfect saint, we still kept the phone, and I can use it where there’s wifi (like, um, our house), but I’ve really noticed that I go to it FAR less often than before, because I don’t “need” it near me like a phone. Its primary use is in the kitchen, for times when I haven’t printed off a recipe or I want to listen to music or a podcast while doing dishes. It’s also convenient when Ryan needs to use the computer for homework, and I need to check Facebook. ;)
Okay, I know this is getting long, but I wanted to share some unintended consequences of no-iPhone. For one, I no longer feel “obligated” to all the blogs and websites I visited. I know that sounds strange, but my google reader was almost like my inbox, and I was always feeling as though I needed to “catch-up.” [Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at me too right now.] I don’t know if it is necessarily because of the lack of a data phone, but now because my time on the computer is so limited, I just read what I can, comment when I can, and beyond that I just let it go. [I know, I know, everyone else in the universe figured out this little nugget of wisdom a long time ago.] Another unexpected benefit is that when I’m holding sleepy Philomena after nursing, I’ve actually spent time in prayer and even picked up some spiritual reading.
I’ll admit there have been some downsides to the switch. Mostly, I’ve missed some cool picture or video moments, because I don’t have it with me. [Because I’m obviously such a slacker when it comes to taking pictures of my baby.] And I hate, hate, hate texting with the normal phone. But, really, these are small inconveniences for the pay off in my life.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love me some internets. I will be forever devoted to the filtered-picture crazy of instagram, and most of you know my constant presence on Facebook. And I still read way too much about pop culture, the state of Catholicism in America, and the newest food trends. I will still visit my beloved blogs, and I’ll even try to comment now and again. And, let’s be honest, I’ll probably check my email about a thousand times to see if this post received any comments.
Also, please please please don’t let my silly ramblings make you feel guilty about your data phone. Seriously. Like I said, the iPhone is awesome, and I’m glad you have it. Truthfully, I’ll probably get another one some day. And really, it’s not just phones that take away our being present to those whom we encounter. If we allow it, practically anything can disengage us from the reality before us.
However, for this season of my life, it’s best that I said au revoir to my frenemy, Mr. iPhone.