The Light (and Dark) of Smartphones

As I’ve noticed what makes me lighter in my life, I’ve been drawn to notice both the light and the dark that has come from this little device that fits in the palm of my hand.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my smartphone. I’ll admit, it took me a while to get on the bandwagon and actually get one (back in the day… which was… ten years ago??) I couldn’t see why I needed a phone to do anything more than, you know, just talk. I was barely starting to text. The old kind of text where you had to push the number keys to get to the right letter. And for me, a person who doesn’t always like talking on the phone, I could see how texting was a bonus.

But then. I got one. And my world opened up.

And now, I’m trying to decide if that was actually a good thing.

I think many of us have come to the conclusion, that smartphones are definitely a two-edged sword. With one edge, I can use its technology to slash through my to-do list and get things done in record time. But, with the other edge, I can accidentally slash through the fabric of my very soul.

Dramatic? Maybe. True? Yes.

As I’ve watched the people around me use smartphones for the last decade, I’ve seen the pros and cons become more and more clear. And so are the psychologist, the sociologists, the teachers, the parents, the law enforcement, and on and on.

As I’ve been on this journey to identify the things in my life that make me “lighter” (and conversely, the things that don’t), I can’t help but notice these things in reference to the piece of electronic equipment that I find in my hand a large portion of my day.

This is why I’ve been thinking so much about my smartphone. I’ve been deliberately trying to notice what about it helps make my life lighter, and where it’s dragging me down into the dark.

Here are some of my thoughts.

I’ll start with the light. Because that sounds like a good place to start!

Honestly, this 2.5 x 5 inch piece of technology is a bloomin’ miracle!! Seriously! I sat down and wrote out a list of all of the tools that I use it for on a daily basis:

Phone calls (this was the first reason for it, after all!)
Text messages
Email messages
GPS/maps
Calendar
To-do list
Camera
Address Book
Weather info
Reading books
Timer
Calculator
Compass
Level
Alarm
Music player (including a piano keyboard!)
Store coupons
Booking travel
and looking up everything from how fast sloths move to what temperature bread is done baking. Phew!

The fact that all of these tools fit in my hand, is nothing short of miraculous. It is a modern mama’s magic wand to productivity. When it is used well.

Having all of these things in one place, easily accessible, truly does help me every single day. Well, except if I lose it. Or drop it in the bathtub. Or it just suddenly… goes… dark…

A few weeks ago my phone died. And I didn’t know what to do with myself. Luckily, everything (but the phone, ironically) is also on my laptop, so I could still function while I was at home. But the one time I had to leave the house… I felt very unprepared!

No phone. No calendar. No maps. No readily available information. And only a good old fashioned to-do list on a scrap of paper. Wow.

It only lasted less than 24 hours, but it gave me a renewed appreciation for all the ways that this tool makes my life so much lighter! And gave me a good reminder to have my phone backed up and to have secondary ways to do all the things I usually do with my smartphone!

So there is the light. Unquestionably, my smartphone lightens the burden of all the jobs that I need to do. And it literally lightens the amount of items I have to carry around with me! Remember when we had to actually carry a map, a calendar, an address book, a hardcover book, a calculator, a CD player, a coupon wallet, and a camera all at the same time?? (Well, you do if you’re my age…) No wonder my bags were so much bigger last century!

And now, into the dark…

I have been home, raising twin boys for the last five years. And the fact that I could use my smartphone to reach out to the universe has saved me more than once. But it has also dragged me down dark holes of stress, anxiety, depression, negativism, and hopelessness.

The unfortunate side effect of having access to everything… is having access to everything. The good. The bad. The truth. The lies. The light. The dark.

I am grateful that I’ve never been pulled into gambling, pornography, and you name the other things that are so very accessible, and so very harmful. But I know many people who have been hurt and who are fighting to heal.

But, here are some ways that I have been pulled into the dark. (And sharing these here is probably going to feel both terrifying and liberating. Kindness appreciated.)

I compare myself to everything I see… and find myself lacking. I’m not as fit as her. I’m not as organized as him. I don’t travel the world like them. I don’t parent my boys like her. I don’t run a world-wide non-profit organization like him. Do you see what I do? Do you do it too? While it’s wonderful to see the incredible variety of people’s lives, I have to be so careful not to get pulled down into a comparison trap. When I get caught down there, it’s always a dark place.

I get completely overloaded by various and often conflicting information. Case in point: nutrition. Ugh! I can’t tell you how many hours I have put in studying nutrition in a genuine effort to feed myself and my family well. But because there is SO much information and everyone seems to have a different idea, I inevitably come away frustrated and hopeless. One woman recently wrote that once she crossed off all the foods that were banned by all of the “diets” she read about, she was only left with kale. Kale?? I’m pretty sure humans are meant to eat more than just kale. This human is going to eat more than kale. I have to be careful not to get overwhelmed by information. It’s a dark place down there buried under a million questionable websites.

I misunderstand the intention behind something written… or am misunderstood. You can put a million emoticons on a text and it’s never going to replace the intricacies of the human face and the subtleties of body language. Whether it’s in a text, an email, a blog post (ahem) or on a social media platform, it’s difficult to always correctly interpret the written word. When it really matters, I want to use my voice. And when it really, really matters, I want my face to be seen too. And when it’s absolutely imperative, I want to be physically in the same room with the human being that I am trying to communicate with and have no electronics in the nearby vicinity. I have to be careful to both interpret communication to me correctly and to share my information correctly. It’s heavy and dark when meaning is misunderstood and real human connections are not being made.

I ignore people and places that are physically right next to me. Aside from those times when I am legitimately using the small screen in my hand as a tool (i.e., maps, calendar, etc. the same way that I would have looked at a paper map or calendar), I catch myself staring at that glowing screen and not at what is actually in front of me. You’ve seen it, right? A group of people at a restaurant… all looking at their phones. A holiday family gathering… all looking at their phones. I want to see the antics my boys are doing (most of the time). I want to look at the awesome eyes my husband has when he’s talking to me (be jealous, they’re gorgeous!) I want to notice the blossoms popping out all over the trees at the park. And even more than just seeing the beauty around me, I don’t want to miss the needs. I want to see when my son’s eyes are sad. I want to see when my sister needs a listening ear. I want to see the litter in the park that my boys and I can pick up. This world and the people in it are amazing! And I want to not miss what is right in front of me in reality because I’m looking too much at something that isn’t.

I am missing the “now” in anticipation of the “post.” I’m happy to report that I’ve been much better at this lately. But there have been so many times that I’m paying more attention to capturing the moment in a picture or video (presumably to post on some social media site later), that I’m not paying enough attention to what is actually happening. Or even worse, I’ll spend so much time trying to document the moment in a “share-worthy” way, that I completely destroy the authenticity of the moment. I mean, really, what’s cuter? The perfect children sitting perfectly still and smiling perfectly?(Doesn’t that just scream “posed!”) Or the pile of kids, rolling on each other and laughing so hard that one of them just wet his pants? Reality is awesome. And when I stress about “capturing” a moment (and it feels violent that way too!), it can drag me down into a grouchy, snippy, unhappy place. I want to not to miss what’s happening now, especially the joy. The picture in my mind will always be wonderful. And an occasional snapped candid picture can be just fun.

I get too much of a “high” from “likes” and positive reactions. Which in and of itself is not a bad thing. But the darker side is the “low” that comes when the likes don’t happen, or the reactions are negative. Now, this is a fact of life when you live on a planet of other humans. But in my day to day activity, I find it much more manageable to deal with the positive or negative feedback from others that comes through more natural channels. I’ve noticed how much it affects me when something I’ve posted gets a reaction. And I’m not sure I like how much it affects me. I think it has to do with perspective. I don’t want to post things for the reaction. I want to post them, simply to share. And whatever does or doesn’t come back, I want to notice and react with appropriate perspective. As an adult who didn’t grow up with a smartphone in my hand, I think I’m pretty good (most of the time) about doing this. But for the generation who is immersed in social media, I am very worried. Being addicted to the reaction (and it is an addiction) can send a person down a very, very dark place. I always want to keep feedback in perspective.

I waste so much time. Ironically, all that time I save by having all my tools in one place… I manage to waste in mindless wandering. OK, that’s probably extreme. And I am definitely getting better about this one. But oh, how much time have I spent on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, etc., etc., etc., when I could have been doing something else much more worthwhile. Now, I’m not an extremist. I have the apps. I do post. But I’m trying to find an appropriate balance in how much I use them. I love seeing posts from my cousins who live far away and I don’t get to see very often. I love looking for home decorating ideas and recipes to pin. I love watching TED talks. There are good uses for these apps in moderation. Recently I’ve tried to limit the amount of time I am on these apps and I have tried to be more deliberate in how I use them. This one is still a work in progress, but I know that when I use them as time wasters, they pull me down into a dark place where my eyes start to ache and my brain starts to feel like oatmeal.

I get anxious over missing out on something. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is an awful feeling. One of the reasons I would find myself looking at social media or news sites or blog posts or whatever for so long is that I didn’t want to miss anything.  And then, when I didn’t know something, I felt stupid, and uninformed, and uncaring, and a whole host of negative emotions about myself. But guess what? My whole life, up until about 10 years ago, I missed all kinds of things! Things happened all over the world, and all over my own neighborhood, without me knowing about them. And I was fine. I really don’t need to know everything about everything right now. In fact, that’s not even possible. And trying to do it spins me into a very dark, very anxiety-filled place. I want to just be a human and learn about what I can and let that be enough.

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Those are some of the dark places I’ve noticed that using a smartphone has taken me. Yikes. But noticing them has helped me frame what I can do.

For me, the key that makes using a smartphone something that lightens my life, is to use this tool intentionally. When I am mindful and deliberate about how I use this technology, I can make choices that bring me light and far less often do I get dragged into the dark.

Now, when I pick up my smartphone, I ask myself, “What am I using this for?” It reminds me that when I use it as a tool to help me, that’s a great choice that will lighten my load. And if I find that I’m picking it up without a deliberate intention, I’m better off just putting it down.

I want to share two additional links here as I wrap up this rather long post. (I told you, I’ve been thinking about this a lot!)

First, I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago, to go to a parent night where Collin Kartchner spoke. If you haven’t heard his message yet, I highly recommend it. You can watch his TEDx talk HERE. He has both clarity on the seriousness of smartphone dangers, and solutions that offer both parents and the youth of today, hope and direction to get out or stay out of that darkness. You can find him HERE.

Second, I’ve been recording the audio versions of posts on The Power of Moms website. Recently, we did a podcast including three posts written by moms, on their experiences with technology and social media. I appreciate their insights and perspectives as I search for my own “sweet spot” in using this technology. If you’d like to tune in, you can listen to the podcast HERE.

Finally, I end with the message I give myself about a thousand times a day: I am still learning. Rather than beat myself up about falling into dark or time-wasting places on my smartphone, I lift myself up with the reminder that this is all a work-in-progress. I’m navigating new territory. I’ll make a mistake, learn something, and try something different.

And occasionally, I’ll watch a funny cat video. Because, come on, it’s so funny! And a little humor lightens up my life!

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Even the cat says to cut yourself some slack!

Are you navigating this new crazy wonderful world that fits in the palm of your hand? What have you learned about the light (and the dark) side of smartphones?

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