Over Fall Break, I had a realization. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, nor worthy of any headlines, but it continued to snowball in my mind until I finally had to confront it. After all, they say the first step is acknowledging you have a problem, and that’s really what this is: I am far too attached to my phone. Perhaps it’s something I’ve known for a long time and am just now ready to actually do something about it. So, when you realize something is far too toxically intertwined with your life, what do you do about it? You redefine your boundaries and cut the negativity out; my phone and I are having a Define The Relationship (DTR) conversation, and you should do the same.
Our smartphones have the capability to be an on-hand mathematician, photographer, communicator and, with instant access to the internet, essentially a way to have the entire universe at our fingertips. With these clearly phenomenal abilities, like anything amazing, comes the temptation to abuse or overuse. The vast majority of the country — 85% as reported by the last Pew Research study — owns some kind of a smartphone. As more and more people become invested in this alternate online reality, its pull becomes stronger. Phone dependency occurs on a spectrum, and researchers have studied it within many different contexts. Whether it be research on phantom vibrations in the absence of your smartphone or the decreasing capacity for memorization as a result of increased dependence on search engines, it is undeniable that smartphones are built into the everyday operations of human existence.
Further, some smartphone users have developed addictive tendencies so severe it warrants a diagnosis: nomophobia, or fear of being without a mobile device. On a more tangible level, the overuse of smartphones impacts the way we interact with the world around us and even changes the way we communicate within all kinds of relationships. The ability to sustain constant communication across any time zone or geographical location inherently increases expectations in the foundation and growth of a relationship. This is even shown through the commonality of judging how serious a budding romantic relationship is by the frequency of communication. Additionally, being so overtly connected to our phones can lead to negative physiological and psychological problems including insomnia, worsened concentration, anxiety, stress and even an intense loneliness as a result of a virtual but false sense of community. Especially through the COVID-19 pandemic when people were forced online for any sort of business or pleasure, many of these unhealthy tendencies were greatly exacerbated. I, personally, feel that my attention span and inability to put my phone away and focus on my work has worsened as a result of essentially living through an online world for the greater part of the past year.
Having said that, I acknowledge that I am obviously constantly enamored with all of the benefits my phone provides. Despite going to school in Michigan, I can regularly communicate “face-to-face” with my three nieces and entire family back in New Jersey. My phone plays the soundtrack to my morning walks to class and accesses current news and information nearly instantaneously. For some reason, when I was home for Fall Break, I became self-aware that something with the potential to be a healthy relationship to my cell phone and its aforementioned benefits grew into an overwhelming dependence. It almost felt claustrophobic. Perhaps it’s time to get a flip phone or a pager of some sort if I ever want to leave the house unplugged but still able to be contacted in case of an emergency. I’m not entirely sure what the perfect response is just yet, but regardless, I know it’s time to re-establish the role my phone plays in my life.
I encourage you to do the same. Re-examine how intertwined you allow your phone to become with your life; how often is it that you walk around without it in your hand or your pocket? When you sit down to do work of any kind, where is it placed in proximity to the task at hand? I want to enjoy every meme, playlist and app my iPhone has to offer me, but in order to do that, I need to confront this first. After all, nobody needs a toxic relationship.
Jess D’Agostino is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.