Recently, I had a few students write essays about why cell phones were destroying society. One of them went so far as to say that we should go back to the days of regular phones (this poor kid born in the 2000’s clearly never had to try to contact someone when plans unexpectedly changed only to realize Oh wait I can’t because they’ve already left the house!). As someone who stood on the brink of the tidal wave of modern technology, I love its benefits (especially GPS!) but I can also see why some people long for the days before it. However, I think that with personal boundaries, we can curb a lot of the problems that frustrate us about the way technology is used.
Some of my boundaries have been clear from the beginning, such as “don’t look at your phone when you’re with other people.” However, I’ve recently put some new personal guidelines in place to make me more mindful about how much time I spend online and how available I am. Here’s what I’ve been doing:
I leave my phone in the living room at night. I used to begin my mornings by groggily grabbing my phone and checking my email from the warmth of the bed. However, a couple times I accidentally left my phone elsewhere overnight, and I realized that I woke up feeling less harried and more likely to actually get out of bed and start my day. Although I still check email in the morning, having a few minutes of technology-free time is a nice way to wake up (and go to sleep!).
I make it difficult to log onto social media. The only social media I use is Facebook, and the only way I access Facebook is to physically go to my computer and log in. I don’t even have the password saved, so I have to type in my whole email and password to get to the homepage. This only takes a couple seconds, but it’s enough of a pause for me to ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Is this the best use of time?” Needless to say, I have no Facebook app on my phone (the full site, as well as Messenger, crashes my phone anyway).
I don’t get home screen notifications for anything but phone calls and texts. I used to look at my phone to check the time, notice that I had two emails, open up the emails, get distracted, and forget was I was doing before I looked at my phone. Now calls and texts show up on the screen, but no emails; I don’t need to be notified the instant someone sends me a message.
I try to avoid long text conversations. Texting is great for a quick “Am I still picking you up at the bus station?” exchange, but I despise it for any sort of meaningful communication due to the long gaps between exchanges (I’m always in the middle of something, and if I’m trying to text at the same time, I’ll usually forget that I’m having a conversation). Sometimes I text with people if it makes them more comfortable, but I try to guide the conversation to email or a phone call whenever possible.
If I don’t feel like talking, I don’t answer the phone. In the olden days, if you didn’t pick up the phone, people just assumed that you weren’t home— now there’s the pressure to pick up or else you’re “ignoring” the other person. However, most of this pressure is self-inflicted. I finally realized one of the biggest sources of phone anxiety for me is being afraid that I’ll catch people at the wrong time, but if we make it normal to only answer the phone when it’s a good time, we could eliminate that problem. If I’m in the middle of a project, having a conversation, or simply don’t want to talk right now, I let the person leave a message so I can call them back at a time when I’m focused and relaxed.
What boundaries have you established to deal with technology?