The fact that i’m willing to spend up to $250 on the light phone 2 says it all. If you haven’t heard about the device, it’s basically a ‘dumbphone’ that acts as a second device, meaning you don’t have to go cold turkey on quitting your iPhone. It has an e-ink screen (think of a kindle), two buttons, no colors, no overbearing notifications, and VERY limited functionality (the first light phone had only calling… too light for me). The light phone 2 is said to hopefully include practical things, like messages, maps, a playlist or two, and maybe even a ride-sharing app preloaded on it. As of today, it has 763 backers on kickstarter.
The light phone pushes all the right buttons: people aren’t addicted to maps, texting isn’t (usually) a source of unease, and an e-ink screen isn’t interesting to look at for longer than a minute. That’s exactly what appeals people. ‘just get a flip phone’ means t9 keyboards and none of the modern, useful apps that have become a part of everyday existence, but a smartphone that has become intentionally dumb where it needs to be — well, that’s a game-changer. It’s also marketed as ‘a phone that actually respects you’, which speaks volumes.
This isn’t a light phone ad, I haven’t backed the project with any money, but just the idea of it feels like a huge exhale. It feels like control may be possible one day. When did this happen? When did it all stop being fun? How did I — and so many others––allow myself to get here?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as my post-grad life has been riddled with periods of anxiety, loneliness, happiness, regret, excitement, rinse, repeat. I work at a desk for 8 hours a day, many of those hours spent looking for content (and the rest are just me being distracted). I’ve been using an app called moment to track my phone usage and I’ve found that I use the thing for about two hours, on average, at work alone. That doesn’t count my commute (i try to read!), my hours at home, in the bathroom, before bed, when I wake up, etc. It’s only natural that content nausea would come into play.
I don’t blame myself for this; it’s the entire point of the design. Vox explains this phenomenon better than I could, but it’s mostly thanks to infinite feeds, push notifications and color science. These machines are basically engineered to keep you hooked so the corporations can make ad money. Sick!
In moderation, social media is an amazing tool. I genuinely do enjoy refreshing twitter and seeing something new to laugh at every time I open it. I love getting DMs from people I live nowhere near who have interesting perspectives and lovely souls. I love being inspired by the work of others that’s so easy to discover on Instagram. However, it’s a double-edged sword; admiration quickly turns into inferiority and creativity falls to the wayside in the face of distraction. Yet, as a modern creative (lol yuck) and someone who wants to have a somewhat normal social life, it’s a necessity. Sadly, the fear of disappearing from social media stems from the fear of irrelevance, which stems from ‘would all these people care about me if it wasn’t so… easy?’.
I’m not one to answer that, because I feel like I’ll never be able to quit social completely, so I’ll probably never know if that’s true. I don’t want to quit! Again, I like the stuff. It’s fun. I just hate that it’s a reflex, a compulsion. I left my phone at the house for 20 minutes while I ran an errand and felt the full range of emotions about it (and ended up on a like bohemian wave of relief and then I just picked it up and started scrolling again). I hate that everything feels so pressing and so fleeting which, online and in our 24-hour news cycle, it is.
So, what is a healthy relationship with social media?
Ironically, I asked my followers about this to see if anyone had any ideas. The answers varied. Some said that posting whatever you want regardless of likes or comments or followers was freedom. Others said no scrolling. One said “treating it like a magazine rather than a lifeline”. Most said, “let me know when you find out”.
It’s a nuanced question that means different things for different people. As with anything, not everyone cares about the same things. Where I feel my social media anxiety stems from the compulsive scrolling that almost seems to be puppeteering me and hours spent killing my own individuality, others feel it in who views their stories or how many likes their pictures receive. Regardless, it feels like hardly anyone is able to say it’s 100% fun or something they’re 100% in control of.
Until I feel like coughing up $300 for a gentrified dumbphone, I’m going to need to learn how to control this glowing, sleek demon myself. I’ve already been tracking my daily usage, replacing actual reading where I would have been scrolling (commute, bedtime — it’s been extremely worth it), and turning notifications off for the apps that bug me most. Despite the news cycle (and uh, meme cycle) moving at an unrelenting pace, there’s nothing that can’t wait a couple of hours. I guess that’s a hard pill to swallow when we yearn to defend these mindless mechanisms, and when so many of us base our creativity or our humor or our activism off their performance on these platforms. So what happens when we can’t? Does that diminish our work? Does it limit our opportunities? Or does it allow for the creation of something more concrete? Something that would stand taller against time than the gratification received when someone takes .02 seconds out of their day to double-tap something you put out there?
There’s a balance here, of course. Artists need to, and should, promote their work for exposure, backing, fun, etc., but that’s different than comparing yourself to others based on metrics and algorithmic whims. It’s different than participating in so much consumption that our own thoughts are buried deep, deep in the back of our minds, fighting to get out. How much more good media (this is what i’m calling movies, books, articles, etc.) would I have consumed if I weren’t consuming garbage that makes me feel bad about myself (as garbage does!)? How much more would I have written, or tried to articulate feelings that go way deeper than 240 characters? Would I have learned fucking mandarin by now?! It’s hard to think about, in all honesty, but there’s no sense crying over spilled milk or lost hours. There’s only sense in finding a way to live alongside the temptation of an endless scroll.
Now, I’m trying to take my own advice in an attempt to reclaim my free time. The most important thing here was finding patterns in my habits, understanding what about them upset me, and putting a reasonable plan into action. As someone suggested, I’m trying to restrict my scrolling sessions to twice per workday (and maybe two to three max more in the afternoon) and grey-scaling my phone to make it less enticing (this seriously works a lot and is fairly easy to remove [i have it set so I can click my home button 4 times to activate it]). Not to be dramatic (as it’s been 24 hours), but I’ve already seen a ton of improvement: I felt much less anxious and restless, I felt compelled to check my phone less regularly, and I found myself getting lost in my thoughts much more, which is the ultimate goal for me. When I allowed myself to be bored, I found my imagination creeping back up on me as a most welcomed surprise.
I’d love to know where you feel most trapped by social media (if you do) and why. Whether it’s tips, frustrations, or just plain ol’ ponderings, I wanna know if your relationship with your phone is a strength or a strain.