Just minutes before sitting down to write this, I was at my best friend’s dinner table, chatting with her family over steaming bowls of spicy chili. Next to my bowl, my cell phone was lying face-down in an attempt to prevent me from unlocking it an absurd number of times to check my messages. (Spoiler alert: there were zero.) Next to me, my friend Maggie sat holding her phone by her lap, texting her long-distance boyfriend, as she normally does throughout the entire day.
I would like to preface the rest of this by saying that I do not personally believe there is a huge problem with millennials and cell phone use in terms of how heavily we rely on technology. With that being said, I notice, even though I personally am not someone who feels terribly addicted to my phone, that there is a certain amount of anxiety that comes along with the idea of unplugging and living a life rid of screens and social media (even for a day, or just a few hours).
More than being an issue of rudeness or incivility that comes along with constant cell phone use, the problem I see with phones is that we’re really just making all the rules up as we go. Technology has advanced so far and so quickly that no one had time to write a guidebook for it. There is no Emily Post Polite Texting-At-The-Dinner-Table book, nor will I find a pamphlet of information on how to reduce my anxiety by closing the goddamned Facebook app in the psychologist’s office. And maybe we should, because it is definitely affecting us.
Last week, while perusing the Forbes “Under 30” section as I tend to, I came upon this article calling out millennials on their dangerous, “anxiety-inducing” tendency to check their phones incessantly. I tend to either shrug or laugh off such articles, because I don’t love the “these young whippersnappers and their dang technology!” mentality, usually finding it offensive and blatantly untrue. However, as I read on, author Caroline Beaton made some insightful points, followed by useful tips on how to kick cell-phone-separation-anxiety (which, let’s be honest, we all kind of have). In this article, Beaton talks about a study from a few years back which discussed the idea of something they referred to as “nomophobia,” which (as I understand it) is essentially the fear of being without your mobile phone. Drawing from her research, Beaton says, “teens who relied heavily on their phones and/or social media experienced elevated levels of stress, aggression, depression and distraction as well as worse self-esteem and sleep.”
When those phones are taken away, however, they experience similar stress and anxiety. As Beaton puts it, “In short, we’re anxious with them and we’re anxious without them.”
However, none of this sounds like new information, right? We’ve all been told by every grandfather-figure and daytime television doctor in our lives that our phones are doing some bad stuff to us, psychologically speaking. And we have also all probably felt the crippling anxiety that comes along with forgetting your phone — and the similar anxiety that comes with having it attached to your hip all day, leaving you 100% accessible to everyone in your contacts list. The real gold from this article was what followed the after-school-special lecture on the research proving our dangerous technology addiction: Beaton’s tips for beating our “nomophobia.”
Among the five tips in the article was one in particular that truly spoke to me: “don’t abandon it.” In this tip, Beaton advises against giving up your phone and attempt to go technology-free cold turkey. She explains, “Millennials know leaving our phone at home isn’t realistic, and psychologists know it’s not beneficial.”
I never find myself terribly anxious when I’m not looking at my phone, but I do find myself in distress if I’m in public without it near. It is absurd that I feel this way when I’m phoneless, but I like to know that, if need be, I have the ability to connect to someone in case of an emergency (i.e. my mom, or the police), or the ability to GPS my way home if I wander into a weird neighborhood. Even just having my phone with me, in my bag, turned all the way off is better than leaving it home alone. In fact, it is the perfect happy medium between the anxiety of being phoneless, and the anxiety of being overwhelmed by text messages, notifications, and information at all times.
Beaton suggests we forgo a full-fledged phone-ban in favor of simply restricting your use of certain apps or smartphone activities. She suggests that “Instead of dropping your phone altogether, define the apps and/or smartphone activities that 1) Stress you out and 2) Waste your time.” By defining and restricting the apps that are doing the most damage, you can find balance between ditching your phone altogether and using it to the point of an anxiety attack.
There is no way we could (and no reason we should) cut technology out of our lives. Times have changed, and we’ve changed with them. The perhaps damaging side-effects of our constant connectedness are, in my opinion, nothing compared to compared to the positive aspects of having any and all information we could ever need at our fingertips at all time. Having a phone, at this point, is arguably more helpful for your productivity than hurtful. Instead of vowing to go smartphone-free in order to stay productive and sane, Beaton’s five tips aim to help you curb the (very real) information overload we experience, and show you how to make the most of your phone.
Mary is the summer Media Fellow at The Financial Diet. Send her your summer intern stories (your lessons, failures, triumphs and good advice) at firstname.lastname@example.org
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