In November 2011, an iPhone 4 fell into my hot little hands. Back then, this mysterious, magical piece of smart technology seemed like the gateway to only fun and positive things: Words with Friends, a star chart app and an archaic version of Instagram, at the time designed for nothing more than applying cool filters to your low-res camera phone photos.
Fast-forward six years and five iPhones later, and like so many others, I had become horribly, toxically, inextricably chained to a smartphone universe. And recent reports reveal that I’m not alone. According to a 2017 study by Flurry, the average American spends five hours a day on smart devices and about 2.5 of those hours are spent in social, messaging, media and entertainment applications.
It’s hard to decipher when, during the span of these past seven years, the love and joy I felt for my iPhone turned into a crippling dependency. But now, I fall asleep to my phone every night and wake to it each morning. I check the Weather app every morning before I choose how to dress for the day. I rely on Google Maps to help me navigate a city I should know well enough on my own.
I update my inbox every time I pick my phone up (which is so frequent, it’s embarrassing). Hell, the second I’m not near my television, I even have the capability to stream cable, HBO and Netflix. The smart device that once acted as a useful tool and a creative outlet slowly became an addiction.
Just like with any addiction, my phone dependency began to impact the more personal areas of my life. In fact, my iPhone began to take the place of my interpersonal relationships. While spending time with family, I’d stare into a small screen on my lap instead of engaging at a level I would have a mere few years back. At work, my productivity levels dropped dramatically due to the constant distraction my phone provided. It was only a matter of time before it came after my romantic relationship too.
My rock bottom, the point at which I realized just how addicted to my phone I was, happened when my four-year relationship came to an end. I won’t sit here and say my phone was the sole reason for my breakup, but it played a significant role. There were warning signs that I had ignored. Months before my breakup, my partner expressed feeling increasingly sad and concerned that I spent all my time and energy talking to everyone but him. Because if it wasn’t texting, it was Facebook Messenger, IG Direct Messaging, or other superfluous programs like WhatsApp and Marco Polo.
I was so preoccupied with flinging every last ounce of my mental space into the corners of the technological universe, I had nothing left for him. This created intimacy issues, insecurity, jealousy and distrust — which at times were perhaps a byproduct of his personal struggles, but many other times were fully and undoubtedly brought on by my addiction.
Eventually, the problems in our relationship came to a head and we called it quits. In the aftermath, I was left with years of memories and a smartphone that couldn’t provide enjoyable company across a dinner table, share in the joys of experiencing a concert or kiss me goodnight before bed — all these things I had previously taken for granted simply because I was too preoccupied looking for fulfillment from a screen.
Now, I move through life with more purpose and intention. I’ve cut back on carelessly giving away my limited time and attention to my phone. Instead, I focus my mental efforts toward being as present as possible in the moment. Or at least trying to. Truly training the mind to stay present is a long, challenging road, but it’s important to start somewhere. In a small span of time following my newfound state of single, I’ve honed in on what actually feels important to me versus what’s distracting, shallow or generally lacking in substance. I no longer want my phone to get in the way of fostering meaningful relationships.
I hope you will take a deep look at your own phone habits and reevaluate how important a role you are letting it have in your life. Whether or not you’ve reached a place in your life where your screen time feels problematic, there’s no harm in mindfully giving your current practices some thought. Take a moment to assess whether, perhaps, you’re also giving too much of yourself away to a screen.