Outsmarting My Smart Phone, Part I

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My first cell phone was too big to put in a pocket or a purse. It was larger than a Princess desk phone, and all the rage before wireless made its debut. We bought it because everyone had one. It seemed like the cool thing to do. It sat between the front seats in the car that Bill drove. We only made calls with it when we were going to be late for an appointment or in the event of an emergency … both of which rarely ever happened. It was more a pain in the butt than anything else. It was a while before I got a flip phone that I could hide away in my purse.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my cell phone. Firstly, I don’t enjoy talking on the phone that much anymore. I rarely give out my phone number and I often don’t carry it with me. I simply don’t like being interrupted when I’m shopping, eating a meal, reading a book, taking a walk, or anything else for that matter. When I’m out of town I do take it with me, just so I can be reached if there is a problem at home or with my kids. I think the use of cell phones in public is way overboard. I worry about the all the little ones who know how to use these gadgets as they are learning to walk. Then there are the teens and tweens like my grandkids who spend way too much texting, playing games, and not watching where they are going. It’s quite frequent around here to watch UVA students crossing the street without looking either way to see if cars are coming, because they are checking their email. And there are lots of adults whose cell phone manners are particularly atrocious. Have you ever had dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and he or she pulls out a cell phone to check emails, even before she reads the menu, or asks you how you are?

Over the last few years and the last one especially I’ve gotten more hooked on this canned entertainment than I’ve ever wanted to be. I believed those who told me that I had to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter to sell my book, and connect with my readers. If I didn’t have friends on the internet what did I have? Nothing, I was told. So I opened accounts on both of of those time wasters and took up checking my emails way too often, as if checking it eleven times an hour would guarantee that I’d just won a prize for my fantastic writing.

Then the last election happened and because I was so caught up in the anxiety and fear that many of us experienced, I was constantly on Facebook checking out the latest Breaking News that brought me into a dark period of depression. Being a news junkie, the cell phone did not ease my growing addiction to having to know everything that was going on all around me. I no longer needed a television set to tune into. I started carrying the phone with me everywhere, as if knowing what the president-elect was doing right this very moment would cause a major world war, or stop the world from spinning without my knowing it. I even checked it while I was eating breakfast and lunch. Something I said I’d never, ever do. If I had an appointment, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone as I walked out the door.

There were the hate posts from both sides chewing out those who were upset about the election and how to get over it. Even those I agreed with most of time got nasty to those whom they said weren’t doing enough to resist. Making phone calls, writing postcards, marching, and signing petitions was all the rage. If you didn’t do enough of any one of those things you were bashed by those who spent all of their available time doing them. I absolutely believe in resisting, but when those on my side start picking on those who can’t do it all, I really begin to question exactly what is going on here. Fortunately most of that activity is over at least for the time being.

Then one morning I woke up, feeling especially down. I realized how much complaining I was doing because I never had time to finish anything I started. As the weather warmed, I wanted to spend more time outside pruning last summer’s garden left-overs and listening to the birds chatter around me. But I didn’t have time. I wanted more time to read, write in my journal, and prepare delicious food. I spent a lot of time over a lot of days, trying to figure out how to change my lack of time. What I discovered that nothing was really holding me back from doing what I wanted to do. I was simply addicted to the cell phone, the internet and all that it represents.

I’ve started making choices about how to spend my time, rather than being run by robots and having my brain get hooked on something out in the atmosphere that I can’t even see. When ever I get the urge to check my email or see what’s happening on Facebook, I ask myself why I need to do that now. Sometimes I still go down the rabbit hole but other times I hold off and enjoy the sunshine and the newly blooming flowers that are growing around me.

I’ll be writing more about this over the next few weeks. I’ll share ways to have more time for yourself and be more mindful. In the meantime, have a glorious week. And before you check your cell phone, ask yourself why you need to do that right this minute!


  1. Exactly where I am Joan. Like advertising in general, social media casts a spell over its viewers. We are sucked into it by our need to know and in no small part by the fear and uncertainty it perpetuates. After all, Madison Avenue is behind it just as much as anything else. I, like you, worry about the young people who don’t take a moment to breathe the air or think their own thoughts. Their eyes don’t take in the small child’s face passing by in a stroller, or the dogwood tree blossoms. Instead, their brains are filled with man-made images and mind-numbing rhetoric. Sometimes I wonder if there’s any point in adding more words to the slush pile. I’ve had an overwhelming desire to pull back, minimize and even walk away completely. Caught up from the beginning in the need to build a “platform” has served something quite different than my writing. In fact, it ate up time more than anything else. I look forward to your future posts on this important subject. There is an upside, and that is that it’s created an incredible opportunity for connecting with people we would not otherwise meet. For me, one of them would be you!

    • Thanks for you thoughts, Dorothy. I too occasionally feel the desire to pull back and simply be. Building a platform and advertising eat up huge amounts of time. At my age I’ve decided to take the time and spend it doing things I love to do, being with family and friends, and learning more about the world around me. I will continue to write. I can’t quit that. I have a lot more to say.

  2. Joan — Not a fan of the “black hole” (technology), I established a time boundary for social media and stay well within its parameter.

    • I envy your discipline and fortitude. I am too easily hooked at times, but I’ve caught this one and plan on keeping my boundaries this time. I have more to say about the problems with all this technology and what it is doing to us.

  3. Oh my gosh, Joan, you hit the nail right on the head for me with this one. The election about did me in and I have slowly began extricating myself from the constant frenzy. I do enjoy staying in touch with family and friends but a limit on social media is my plan. Thanks!

    • I’m with you, Kathy, on putting a limit on social media. You are absolutely right about staying in touch with our loved ones and living each moment as it comes along.

  4. There was a segment Sunday night on 60-Minutes about the addiction of smart phone apps, and how the folks at Google have actually worked with the science on addiction to encourage continued usage. I couldn’t follow it totally, ’cause I was caught up in a FB conversation … you know how that happens. 🙂

    This is such an important topic these days, Joan. Thank you for starting it off.

    • Thanks, Janet! Yes, I know how those conversations happen! I missed the 60 minutes show on Sunday but there is a lot being reported about how we are being used by Google, etc. to sell their wares. I’ll be writing much more about technology and what it is doing to us in the coming weeks.

  5. Francine Brady says:

    I am retired but still have some energy so when a friend told me about a company that hired people to do temp child care, for folks that work and only need help from time to time, I thought I would give it a try. I was told I had to get a “smart”phone with a GPS. I said, ” I can read a map”, but I did what I was told. One day, I was late so I put the address in to get directions. I put the phone on the seat and before I could look at it, as I was lost—It talked to me! “In 1000 feet turn left at Cherry Ave.”
    It has saved me from being late many times. Now, I am smart enough to have a “smart”phone and only do e-mail and facebook on my home computer.

    • Good for you, Francine!! It doesn’t sound to me like you will follow the white rabbit into the hole. Yes, there are wonderful things that technology can do for us and we we need a certain amount of it.

      • Francine Brady says:

        Here is another one. The other day I took one of the children for a walk and got locked out.
        I called the mother for the hide away key. She said just a minute, try the door now.
        She had opened it with her SMART PHONE. I felt like Alice in Wonderland…in a good way.

  6. Joan, I can always rely on you for straight talk. And you are candid enough to show your vulnerability. I admire that.

    With affairs in PA to oversee, a blog to publish weekly, and a memoir to complete, I have precious little time for social media. I don’t spend much time speaking on my iPhone either. My kids insist on texting which often irks me. I see the value of texting, but sometimes a 2-minute phone call can avert a protracted time of back & forth. I suspect you can relate here too.

    I appreciate this post, the comments, and look forward to your revisiting the topic again soon.

    • I feel the same about texting versus a 2 minute phone call. It is valuable at times but I don’t like the interruption of what I’m doing and what seems like the immediate response that is expected. It helps that I don’t have my phone with me most of the time. I do take it with me when I’m out, but ignore most calls coming in, which are just others trying to sell me something!

  7. Sara Howlett says:

    Thanks for your blog. We have friends that are still healing from an accident they had with a texter several years ago. Texting must only be done in a car that is pulled over off the road, better yet in a parking lot. You do have to be careful to anticipate those crossing the street with a phone in hand to avoid hitting them. Unfortunately we all lose with higher insurance premiums.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks for your words of caution, Sara. Yes, phones in moving cars can be extremely dangerous and I do hope one of these days that using a phone while driving will be illegal all over this country. I hope your friends will recover completely from that accident and that the person doing the texting has learned a big lesson.

  8. Joan,

    You can see from the responses that you are not alone in getting caught up with the smartphone. Many decades ago I criticized my sisters for jumping on board new gadgets as they were rolled out. I resisted, thinking I was functioning just fine without an answer machine (remember those?) a microwave, pagers, touch tone phones, etc. Then my kids became teens and finally adults, and the only way they communicate is by texting, posting on Facebook, etc. I reluctantly moved into the end of the 20th century and the 21st century and discovered a whole new life with my smartphone.

    Now I can’t imagine my life without my smartphone. Even though I have to control myself lest I fall down the rabbit hole, I absolutely love so many features: being able to easily take photos and videos and share them right away, get around town (and other countries) with my GPS, make reservations, check into my flights and save my boarding passes as QR codes o my phone, confirm/respond to folks quickly, check and transact financial info quickly, have all my contacts info at the ready whether I need to call, text or send them postcards, listen to podcasts, track my walks, etc. Then there are the times when I want to ask my handyman or other workman a question that I can send with a photo of the household problem I want them to fix.

    I love being able to quickly get answers to my concerns or quickly research a fact, event, or phenomenon. When my grand niece recently texted me that my sister-in-law had passed a few days before she didn’t yet have the details. I googled my sister-in-law’s name and got all the details the mortuary had already posted.

    As a business owner, I love that the fact that even when I’m away from home I can respond to clients who are having trouble accessing something, or who have a quick question. Being able to respond fast has also enabled me to confirm or land gigs. I’m considering getting rid of my business landline since using my cell phone enables me to be so much more efficient in my personal and business life.

    Ironically, I seldom talk on my phone except with folks who don’t have an online presence, a few personal friends, and the tech folks who are helping me untangle computer glitches.

    I still prefer to compose blog posts and post to most social media from my computer rather than phone, but as I’m on the go so much, my smartphone with its many features and apps is a tremendous tool.

  9. Joan Rough says:

    Thanks for a different point of view, Flora. I think the smartphone can be hugely valuable in situations like yours. You are using it as a tool rather than a time waster, which too many other people use it for. Yes, I find my cell phone valuable in certain situations like calling home to find out what I need to pick up from the grocery store, or saying I’m stuck in traffic and will be late for an upcoming appointment. But it also can cause accidents if used in a moving vehicle and the idea that we must respond to texts, emails, etc. immediately just pushes us into rushing around like chicken with their heads cut off.

    I am not in business and I don’t find waiting to call a repairman for a few hours is a problem. One of the things I do love about getting older is that I can slow down and take life as it comes, unlike many around me.

  10. Dear Joan,
    You are so right. I have a love-hate relationship with my Smartphone. More of the latter, I suspect. I had a stroke a year ago just after my book was published. I had everything set up to go and nothing went including Facebook, presentations, and my Smartphone of course. My right -hand and legs don’t work, forget about social media, texting, or phoning. Anyway, I spent 50+ years with the other kind of phone. I don’t think I’ll end up like you, but you never know.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Penelope, thanks for stopping by. I hope your recovery from your stroke is progressing and that you’ll be able to use what ever technology you want to.

  11. Joan,

    I feel your pain. Some days seem ridiculously caught up in checking out posts, Facebook, etc. on my smart phone. Interestingly, I read this post on my cell phone. As Flora said, phones have become an indispensable (ubiquitous) part of daily life. I’m going to Ireland next month and will need the phone. Why take a laptop when you can do everything on the phone? Still, like you, I long for quieter more peaceful days before all the technology … and have begun pulling back here and there as I assess where I want to go in the future and how to spend my time and talents. At times, I feel Facebook has become little more than a platform for people to brag and bloviate and who cares what you ate that day or whether you have arrived at a certain airport terminal? It’s absurd, laughable, if it weren’t so endemic of the isolation and loneliness so many feel. Not to mention the certain smack of voyeurism and boredom, checking out on your phone as you wait for your tires to be changed who is doing what, where and with whom. Brava and job well done for a provocative piece.

    • Joan Rough says:

      I think it’s all in how you use it, Susan. Unfortunately most people use the phone to fill time and space they don’t know what to do with. But when it comes to business and travel, yes, they are a very valuable tool.