By: Prianca Naik
I looked up from my computer at a nursing home where I was seeing patients and noticed in my periphery the darkened silhouette of a male nurse whose head was tilted down thirty degrees or so to type into his phone without looking up for several minutes. The days of people making eye contact and having a meaningful conversation are passé. Later that same day, I was in the hair salon waiting at the washing station with toner soaking into my hair. I had twenty minutes to myself. My plan was to close my eyes and relax. Of course, I had my phone in my hands and my husband called. He needed to vent, so I listened. However, I would have had this time to unplug and decompress if I did not have my phone on me at all.
This inability to unplug has many root causes. The modern expectation of omni-reachability is a major culprit. Why should this be the case? The iniquity of this caveat is twofold. Firstly, when one is not available or does not respond to messages or calls, there is an implicit anger or negativity cast upon said message recipient. “Why didn’t she answer me back? I wonder if she is mad at me.” echoes in our heads as the paranoid nobody likes me narrative takes over the abandon.
Furthermore, we have become dependent on our phones to the point of panic any time it is out of our hands. Another disturbing consequence is the need for constant stimulation as the phone sends inputting signals to our dopaminergic pathway distorting the natural pleasure center in the brain. As you can imagine, this creates endless substrate for our already anxious society and of course the gift of instant gratification only exacerbates matters.
I am embarrassed to admit that I am now three corticosteroid injections in to my thumbs heading towards trigger finger release surgery. This type of ailment usually occurs in the middle-aged to senior citizen population, however I am dealing with this in my thirties. Why? you may ask. The ridiculous answer to this simple question is the overuse of my thumbs on my phone. This is a thing now! What is worse is that there is no straightforward solution to this highly complex problem. I use my phone to communicate via text messages, receive messages and emails from my job, and to look up anything and everything I want on a whim.
How does one distance himself from this small yet powerful apparatus? For me, this process is a work in progress. Here are a few tidbits that I have found helpful. On the weekends, in the mornings, I leave my phone upstairs in my bedroom while I proceed to have breakfast and spend time with my family. I am still figuring out how to avoid it first thing in the morning on weekdays however. Reading hardcover books and writing in a notebook keep my need for my device a bit less.
Like many of you, I have a love-hate relationship with my phone. I need it but do not. I rely on it but sometimes want space like a best friend. I protect it with a case and sometimes physically assault it with my slippery hands or inattention. It is usually with me, acting as an extension of my body.
To really bring this story full circle, you must know that as I write this I am sitting on a beach in Hawaii typing on my beloved phone. In my defense, I tried to use the computer center in the hotel to write this, but was unable to download the document containing the essential outline from my email. My phone, of course, quickly came to the rescue and I was able to copy and paste what I had into my documents app.
I am sad to say that as a person who strives to unplug when taking a break particularly on vacation, I am that person at the pool who is typing onto my phone for minutes at a time without looking up. In fact, I am no different from the male nurse whom I described in the beginning.
That being said, I guess the first step from gaining some distance from these addictive devices is to acknowledge there is a problem. I am there and perhaps a few steps further, but it will be a slow go. Good luck on your endeavor if this article inspires you to take stock in the role technology plays in your life. With a little thought and a lot of effort, we may all be able to find one another again.