My friend Steve was standing in my dining room. I remember that night really well because he pulled out a brand new cell phone he had just bought. A brand new iPhone. We were in awe ten years ago. It had a compass and a cool lighter app. It held your calendar and contacts in such a pretty new way. Just a simple swipe and click and the world was at your fingertips. The thrill of the iPhone got into my blood and I couldn’t resist. That’s when an Apple fanboy was born.
Since that day I’ve moved everything to Apple devices. I’ve had iPads, iPods, iPhones, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, you get the idea. While I am an Apple guy, this post isn’t about Apple exclusively. Rather it’s about the smart devices that are now so pervasive in our world.
There’s no mistaking the impact smart devices have made. The way we connect is completely different than it was ten years ago. The way we gather our news, listen to music and express our opinions. It’s all in the palm of our hands. I walk into Panera, grab a seat, pull out my phone and order from my phone so that they can deliver my food to my table. It’s incredible. Smart devices are amazing inventions and they aren’t going away any time soon.
Truly there’s a lot of positive about smart devices, but underneath the glow of the device’s screen lies an ugly, poisonous element. I saw a post from a Facebook page called “Nerdiest” recently. An album of images depicting the smart devices negative impact on our lives and relationships. You can view that album here. It’s that darker, insidious side of my smart device, why I decided to make my device dumb.
Here are the reasons why.
My Productivity was Plummeting
I can hear you all right now, freaking out at me while reading this on your phone or tablet. You’re saying things like…
“But Stan, Siri is like a personal assistant.”
“But Stan, your calendar is kept so organized with a smart device.”
“But Stan, there’s an entire section in the app store for ‘Productivity’ apps.”
I get it. I hear you. I know. There’s so much about my phone that in some ways does make me more productive. I keep all my contacts on my phone. I can connect with almost anyone at anytime. My calendar is right there. There’s no shortage to how productive it can actually make me.
The problem is I’m not. There’s something magical about the color red. It peaks the human interest. It grabs my attention, seeps into my eyes and down into my soul. Something about red makes a bull charge. It just gets to you. And when I see red, it shows up in the form of a notification.
“Oh, look, someone liked a tweet.”
“Oh, look, someone commented on my Facebook post.”
“Oh, look, Moe’s has a great deal for Moe Monday.”
“I’m going to buckle down today and get some serious work….SQUIRREL!”
And suddenly I’m not productive. In what may have felt like a few minutes was in reality a couple of hours browsing a social media app, playing a game and simply wasting time. In an effort to make my phone a little more dumb and to gain some productivity back in my life, I have shut off notifications. That has taken me a while to get used to because I’m trained to look at my phone every 1.5 seconds for a new red number telling me someone out there acknowledged me. Shutting off notifications has drastically improved my productivity.
You can do the same. It’s quite simple. The formula looks like this…
Settings > Notifications > (toggle) Off
Another reason I made my smart phone dumb is because…
I had become a prisoner
Truth be told, I can become addicted very quickly. Addicted to the noise of the smart device. The new things that are out there and all the distractions that come with it. A device meant to free me up in this world became a chain I carried with me. It wasn’t freeing or setting me up for success, it tortured me by dragging me away every time it dinged, buzzed and lit up.
Not only the ding of a notification or email, but the fun of a game. What’s meant to be a little fun with my children suddenly becomes an obsession. I’m not proud of what I’m about to type. I’m sharing because it’s a real consequence of addiction. I have learned from mistakes in the past, but I’m sharing with you because the dangers are real. I’m not proud, but it’s my story.
In one of my darkest seasons years ago, I was not only spending too much time on a game I had become addicted to, but I had also started spending money on the game. I don’t mean a few dollars here and there, I mean hundreds of dollars. I had gone so far into a deep hole of depression and self-pity that I couldn’t see any light ahead of me. My only community were people in my clan in an online war game that I played on my phone until the early morning hours. This was not freedom for me. It had become an unbearable nightmare and a weight I could no longer carry.
Addiction at a base level is simply attempting to escape reality. Gambling, pornography, video games, drugs, alcohol all help us to escape reality and get some sense of peace, even though it isn’t real. It’s a facade of peace that never lasts. The pain of life continues to crash into us like the never ending waves of the ocean pounding the shoreline. Soon the pornography isn’t enough, we need to up the game. We need harder porn or to start taking greater risks sexually to satisfy. Or one beer isn’t enough. Soon it’s two or three, harder liquors to ease the pain and we wake up one day and wonder how we became addicted. The smart phone can do that and a whole lot more. You are regularly one click away from escaping.
One click away from spending too much money
One click away from ignoring your kids
One click away from tuning out your spouse
One click from throwing it all away
Addiction to smart devices, along with physical ailments because of our posture when staring at them, is increasing. For those with any addictive personality traits at all, a smart phone can absolutely dominate them.
To break free from that addiction I had to be called out by my wife. She called me out when she discovered my hidden addiction. I had to walk back into reality and get mentally healthy again. I also had to detox from a video game that had dominated my mind. I shut off my ability to make in app purchases and to download apps and allowed my wife to set a restrictions code on my phone. I also added stronger accountability partners in my life who regularly keep me in check and ask me the tough questions. This may seem childish or lame to some, but to me it was one of the most freeing decisions I have ever made.
I couldn’t be in chains to a video game anymore because I had no access to them. It was a hard transition, but living consistently with reality is the definition of being mentally healthy. I had to break an addiction and rejoin reality.
Setting restrictions is also easy if you’re struggling. Allow a trusted person to set a 4-digit code on your phone. Paint yourself into a corner when it comes to your addiction. Don't give yourself the out. This is where you will find true freedom.
I also made my smart phone dumb because…
I was in a relationship with my phone
There is something great about being connected to people. Friends and family far and near. It’s a wonderful world we live in. But soon that connectedness was interrupting my family dinners and dates with my wife.
“My phone buzzed. I have to check it.”
“What if it’s my boss?”
And if you’re in ministry you can over spiritualize your connectedness adding to the burden and guilt if you or your family don’t allow this invasion of privacy.
“What if someone died?”
“What if it’s an emergency and I need to go to the hospital?”
“But I’m on call 24/7.”
One thing I’ve learned, I have to stop spiritualizing my need to be needed. I’m not that important. And that person who just sent that text or email, they can wait. They can wait long enough for me to finish dinner with the woman I made a covenant vow with.
I can rationalize and spiritualize the fact that my boss just sent me a text all I want, but the reality is that when I stood before God, family, friends, a preacher and a woman in a beautiful white dress, that covenant vow was not made to my boss. The vow to be there in sickness and health until ‘death separates us’ was made to my wife. To the woman I was eating dinner with. My relationship with my wife and kids was being damaged because someone liked a photo on Instagram. Yeah, totally worth ruining your marriage over.
The connectedness became for me an invasion of my time. Always available. Always responding immediately. It was and is completely unhealthy. No personal boundaries in place whatsoever. The trouble is we want to spiritualize this so badly, but if you examine your motives truthfully, you may find something that isn’t spiritual at all. You may simply find that you have a need to be needed, a need for affirmation. And you are filling it in an unhealthy way by being available to everyone at all times.
So what did I do? I simply started deleting apps. I took things off my phone that drew my attention away to a screen instead of to the faces of my family. It’s not always easy, but I have to make my phone dumb for the sake of connecting with the right people at the right time, not simply for being connected for connectedness sake. And with my restrictions code in place and installing apps not an option, once I delete an app, I can’t add it back. Here’s a short list of apps I’ve deleted in the last few months.
These are apps that connect me too much at times and draw my attention away from the people who need me most. I have been in an unhealthy place with making myself too available for other people, but I’m not doing that anymore. I have to have boundaries for my own mental, spiritual and relational health.
So these are the reasons I made my smart phone dumb.
And I’m loving my new-found freedom.
What reasons would you add to this list? What are you doing to combat this device addiction that’s taking over our lives?