A personal essay that Nina wrote for Sauce Magazine.
Editorial, Storytelling, Tone of voice
"Why I need to stop phubbing my life and rewire my brain: A personal essay from a confessed tech junkie.
By Nina Franklin for SAUCE.
When I was 14 years old, my grandfather bought me my very first cell phone for my birthday, much to my mother's disgust. I look back on it now and wonder what the hell she was so worried about? That I would sit up all night and (god forbid) talk to my friends on the phone?
To be fair, most of my friends didn’t have cell phones either and texting was never seductive to me. As a writer, I’ve always hated abbreviated text - using it feels like I’m betraying the English language, and it wasn’t like there was Instagram to consume me, we’re talking a good 15 years ago where modern-day social media was just a glimmer in the eye of the tech gods. So now, in the age of all-consuming technology infested life, mothers most certainly have EVERYTHING to worry about when grandfathers gift grandchildren their very first cell phones at the age of 14, and having their kids stay up late and talk to each other on the phone is the least of their worries.
Fast forward to the present day, it’s 2019, I am 29 years old and I am a writer. My life is ruled by my laptop, smartphone and a superhero-obsessed four-year-old. Although my job clocks up a big chunk of my daily technology usage, it’s hard to deny that the urge I have to constantly pick up my phone throughout the day is comparative to full-blown drug addiction, because in some ways you could say that the smartphone area is just another form of addiction.
Our brains have been rewired to accommodate the vast array of technology that has infiltrated every crevice of our lives. I and the rest of society are accustomed to picking up and using our smartphones on a daily basis. But unlike an addiction where addicts generally know that what they are doing is seriously bad for them, our brains have been rewired to believe that this is just a part of our reality, thus normalising our usage. But is it normal?
Is it normal to roll over and start scrolling through Instagram the second our alarm wakes us and our eyes have adjusted to the glow of our screens? Is it normal to check your emails, have a chuckle at Twitter or check how many new followers we’ve acquired overnight while we’re making our morning toast or brushing our teeth? Is it normal to pull your phone out the minute you step out the door to go live or add to your story while on your morning stroll to work?
It has become a rare thing to see people outside in the “real” world, not on their phones, waiting for buses, waiting for friends at lunch, waiting for our coffees to be made and with the keyword here being “waiting”... have we really become so uncomfortable with the stillness that the thought of not having something to do makes us riddled with anxiety? This is a catch 22 in itself because one of the biggest causes of anxiety is doing too much. We never truly give ourselves time to just be anymore.
I recently made the decision to reduce my son’s screen time, not that he was in front of the TV or on his tablet all day anyway but I had let it slip a little and I found myself relying on technology to entertain him if I needed to get something done, like cooking the dinner or cleaning, as I’m sure most mothers do. I always made the excuse that just like myself, after a long day at work I deserved to unwind on the couch and watch mindless TV, so what’s the harm in letting him do the same?
Just like how I’ve normalised my technology usage in my adult life, I was also normalising it within my child's world too and the science behind why this is not OK is alarming. To put it in a nutshell, overuse of technology for children can mean rewiring their delicate, growing brains, overstimulating them, causing bad behaviours and stunting their ability to think in a healthy way. I found a great article that sums it all up in one paragraph— “You can think of attention as the gateway to thinking. Without it, other aspects of thinking, namely, perception, memory, language, learning, creativity, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making are greatly diminished or can’t occur at all. The ability of your children to learn to focus effectively and consistently lays the foundation for almost all aspects of their growth and is fundamental to their development into successful and happy people.”
That got me thinking about how concerned I was about technology rewiring my son's brain, but what about how technology has rewired my brain?
I realised that I am constantly using my phone as a “filler” for when I am waiting for something else to be complete, for example, I will pick my phone up the second my TV show switches to an advert and promptly put it back down as soon as the show comes back on and you better believe that watching full-length feature films distraction-free is a distant memory. I’ll be having a conversation with someone and as soon as the conversation comes to a natural halt I will pick my phone up as I’ve somehow missed something online within the last three minutes of my absence. It can’t be just out of boredom that my urge to pick my device up has a hold on me, no, no, it is something much stronger. Have I lost the ability to think and focus? My attention levels have been shot to hell and I, Nina have turned into a technology junkie.
Macquarie Dictionary coined the term “phubbing” as when a person develops a habit of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone and I now know that I am phubbing my life. My mobile phone takes precedence in my everyday life and I want it to stop. Kevin Roose from The New York Times shares my predicament, he writes, “My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping. I tried various tricks to curb my usage, like deleting Twitter every weekend, turning my screen grayscale and installing app-blockers. But I always relapsed.”
Kevin Roose (NY Times), you are preaching to the choir. I realise that I too need to unhook my brain from the harmful routines I have put into place. With the digital wellness industry in full swing, if you are actually serious about “breaking up with your phone” then there are lists of apps, self-help books and methods to help you do it.
So, below I have compiled a list for us to try together because although I know I will probably never be 100% be free from the grasps of my handheld rectangular vortex, I know I need to make a change. So let’s do this together.
Join us, at SAUCE, in the digital sabbath movement— Go without technology one day a week for three months, replace it with something else, such as reading a book or meditating, then encourage a friend to join the movement with you. You can sign up here for gentle encouragement.
1. Read “How to break up with your phone.”
2. Purchase a light phone (if possible) - A phone that is designed to ONLY make calls and send texts.
3. Attach a rubber band to your phone - By doing so you will be forced to think before engaging with your phone.
4. Change your lock screen to ask you three questions before you unlock your phone: What for? Why now? What else? This will be another form of “mental speed bump” to help you decide if you reeeeeaaallly need to use your phone.
5. Use a phone tracker and limit your hours week by week."