I couldn't sleep. I lay there staring at the ceiling, listening to the house cool and settle. Something was bothering me and I knew what it was. I reached for the bedside table, grabbed my phone and without hesitation, deleted two apps....
I’m not sure exactly when it started, but it’s been growing for a while. Whenever I took my phone from my pocket or reached over to check it at work, there’d be a tiny pin prick of annoyance somewhere inside my head. A little niggle of frustration.
This feeling made me notice a few things about myself. How I’d take my phone with me to another room of the house if I was planning on spending some time in there, eg. from the kitchen while we were in there eating, to the Xbox while I’m playing games, to the lounge while I’m watching TV. How, whenever I found myself waiting for anything - in a queue, on a train platform, in a Doctors’ waiting room - I’d whip out the phone and be staring zombie-like into it until my train arrived or my name was called.
And I noticed the people around me doing the same. Every other person looking down at their phone. We used to watch the world go by, now it’s going by without us.
People come round to visit and ask for your wi-fi password and I’m not judging, because I’ve done the same. Everyone sat around the tv, a phone or tablet under-lighting their faces a pale deathly blue.
These devices are sold to us in adverts that show how full and joyous life can be with beautiful people and euphoric anthems. The reality is hunched over in the dark trying to get past level 312 on Candy Crush.
"The things you own end up owning you."
As these thoughts and observations grew in me and began to fester, several things happened that just hammered the point home.
The Look Up video was released.
Then this one - sincere and hitting all the right buttons.
Passenger - the great sing/songwriter Mike Rosenberg - released Scare Away the Dark with the line: “We should stare at the stars and not just at screens.”
The main character in my film of the year, Boyhood talks about the subject of phones and social media taking over our lives and experiences.
All these things clarified what I had already been feeling. They gave coherent words to my babbling thoughts.
So; what’s to be done about it? It isn’t my place of course to try to change anyone else, so these are just a few things I've come up with for myself.
One way would just be to ditch the phone and social media accounts, but here’s the thing - I’m not going all Tyler Durden on you here. This isn’t a tirade on technology. Technology is good. I enjoy talking about card games with a select few on Twitter and I enjoy sharing trailers and discussion on the videogame page I’ve created on Facebook. These things are not inherently bad; I just think we need to take a step back a bit. I don’t need the immediacy of Twitter news. I don’t need to know right then and there that a friend has announced something on their status. These things will wait. I’ll catch up.
I often check my phone for messages because I don’t like being late. I don’t like the idea that anyone is waiting on me to get back to them. I just need somehow to relax a little and realise that if it was urgent, if they needed an answer right away, they’d call.
So this is what I’m trying out:
I’ve deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone.
I have also deleted the app for an Xbox forum I am a member of.
I found when at times I didn’t have a good enough mobile Internet reception to use Facebook or Twitter, I would look through my photos. So I am going to back these up on my computer and take them off the phone.
I will take 10 - 15 minutes each evening to open my tablet or laptop and check Facebook, Twitter, the Xbox Forum, my YouTube subscriptions and other websites to catch up on any news I’ve missed or things I might be interested in. Then it gets switched off.
I have set my text message tone to repeat 3 times if I don’t hear it the first time, so that I don’t feel inclined to keep checking my phone whenever I pass it.
At work, my phone is switched off. I will make sure that anyone who might need to get in touch with me urgently at work, has the details to do so.
When I’m at home, the phone gets put down somewhere and stays there until being used as an alarm for the morning.
When I’m leaving the house for something other than work, I’ll decide whether I need my phone. If I’m out with my fiancée somewhere we’re not likely to separate, I could simply ask my parent’s to call her if they need to reach me in a hurry.
Those are the ideas I’ve come up with so far and I’ll update you with how it goes and whether they’re enough, or whether I just need to dig out the Nokia 3310 and throw the “smart” phone in the bin.