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How Smart is Your Phone?

20 J00000010UTC 2011

Each night at about 10:45 I regret to tell you that I start to get on my husband’s case. It’s not that he’s left the toilet seat up, or hot-boxed me, or left an empty milk jug in the fridge. In fact, he doesn’t offend me much at all, but as night creeps on towards midnight, the man just won’t get off his phone. A mesmerized being with bright yellow bulbs for eyes, his finger taps away at an e-mail or little colorful candies, and I wince, wondering if I’m about to crawl into bed with a zombie.

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“Babe, did I tell you that the blue light is not good for your eyes at night?” I query.

“Yes, I know,” is the reply.

“And you know that it shuts of melatonin?”

“Yes, you told me that too.”

“Well, um…if you know, then why do you keep doing it?” I ask tentatively.

“I don’t know. It’s fun. Here! Check out this video!”

“No thanks,” I grunt as I pull on my eye mask and roll over.

Oh geez! This interaction makes me want to rip my hair out and go sleep in the basement in a sackcloth. He might as well smoke a cigarette, drink an RC Cola, and swing from the rafters like a monkey as far as I’m concerned. Maybe eat a row of Oreos too. The thing is, I know my husband is not special, at least not where phone usage is concerned.

Our little phones have become extensions of our appendages and our beings helping define who we are and what we are worth to ourselves and to others. The only way one could possibly know what I’m talking about is to remove media for some period of time– maybe a day, a few days, or even a month. Because our devices have hooked into the essence of who we are as humans, they have begun to shape us as individuals and as a culture. Because of how attached we are to them, they have become a constant live-feed into our brains, and thus into our psyches. They are becoming who we are, and we are becoming what they are, for we can hardly think or be without them.

The short test is when you forget your phone for the day. How do you feel? Maybe you feel naked, exposed, disconnected, or empty-handed. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the answers you need or can’t find anyone you need to find. Or maybe you feel like you’re missing out on all kinds of action and interactions, like the world is happening without you. Well, it is– and it isn’t. It all depends on how you define the world: is it in cyberspace and cybertime or in real space and time?

The longer test is to make the intentional choice to unplug yourself for a determined period of time, whether a day, a week, three months, or more. A strange kind of silence occurs when you are not plugged in. There is nothing to look at, no update to inform you, no constant feed, no images to stimulate your eyes and your brain. You feel a little lost, then have to start looking at, reading, and interacting in other ways, mostly with the world and the people around you, and that is a foreign, yet fulfilling, prospect.

When the constant drone of all the little machines fades away, the brain changes itself. It has to adapt to a slower, realer way of interface. The brain becomes acquainted with a quieter existence. Without a constant buzz of information, data, and media, it– at first– doesn’t know what to do. It demands more, almost freaking out for something exciting to super-charge its neurotransmitters. The brain longs for the little red notification flag that triggers the happy release of dopamine. What do we do without it? What do we do instead of tapping the G-mail icon on our phone every hour or every 10 minutes or every 10 seconds? It’s astounding to think that you might miss what your high school bestie had for dinner, or how many diapers your sister-in-law changed that morning. You’ll have to fill that time somehow. You might even have to sit still and commune with yourself, something a phone would never, ever allow.

I suggest that when you remove the noise of the device, that when the smart phone ceases to be your brain for you, then your brain will once again take over and begin to partake in and enjoy both the quiet and the stimulation of the real world. It will re-discover itself, become excited by the challenges of memory and computation, and thoroughly enjoy the silence and the harmony of the real self.

Not many people can live life off the grid, totally divorced from all the machines that are taking over the world. I’m not so sure that would be healthy or helpful. But most people could– and I suggest should– become more aware of their relationships to their devices, making more conscious choices about who is in charge. Those decisions stand to improve our health, our brains, our interactions, our enjoyment of nature, our sleep, and yes, even our marital relations.

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