Okay. I know this sounds half-crazy… But I have never owned a smartphone. People keep wanting me to go on WhatsApp and I keep thinking… What’s Up with this WhatsApp? I’m already spending too much time writing and researching on my desk computer, not to mention answering 800 emails just to meet someone for a coffee.
Granted, I don’t have an extended family with whom I need to keep in touch with. My husband is usually right down the hallway. We actually share the one dumbphone we own. Like in the good ol’ days when the phone sat in the corridor and everybody had the same phone number. People call me and are surprised when he answers. People call him and are surprised when I say ‘Hello’.
I’m probably the only Western woman to drive off to the supermarket without a phone. I never seem to remember to take it with me. It’s a nuisance most of the time. When I lived in Germany, 2 km from the Dutch border, it would constantly beep to tell me that I was now in Germany, now in the Netherlands, now in Germany, now in the Netherlands. This dumbphone thought I was the dummy.
But in January while visiting family in the US, I did enter the smartphone world for five weeks. My dumbphone didn’t work in the US, so I borrowed and old Android phone from my brother. It took me a while to catch on. I would hardly touch it and something strange would appear on the screen. Granted there were some things that I liked. I could confirm my airline flight from a beach restaurant. I could instantly find directions or a museum’s opening hours. I could check out the local weather report.
For the most part, I consciously tried to observe my behavior with this smartphone. I discovered a few things of interest. First of all, I seemed to like swiping the phone. There was something physically satisfying about this movement. It reminded me of the gesture a queen might make to dismiss an errant subject. (“Off with her head!” cried the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.) There was a feeling of power and control in that gesture. It felt glorious!
Scientific studies have actually shown that frequency of smartphone use is related to the need for touch. One addictive aspect of smartphone use is the pleasure derived from holding the phone and completing tasks with one’s fingers. The term “need for touch” actually comes from the marketing field. Marketers know that, when their products require you to touch the screen more and you find it satisfying and fun, then you will engage in impulse purchasing.
While the “need for touch” is driving smartphone addiction, Fear of Missing Out is the first cause for overuse. Scientists actually have an acronym for this fear – FoMO. If you think about it, FoMO paradoxically promotes a vicious cycle: the more FoMO you have, the more you are likely to be addicted to checking your smartphone, and the more you are actually missing out on the reality around you.
I also noticed that I didn’t like holding the phone in the palm of my hand. I could feel the electrical energy coming into my hand, which disturbed me. I often wanted to shake my hand free of these electrical impulses. According to the American Cancer Society, studies on the link between cellphone use and cancer have had mixed results. But some studies have found a possible link—such as studies from a research group in Sweden which has reported an increased risk of tumors on the side of the head where the phone is held.
But perhaps what scared me most was catching myself glued to the phone when someone walked into the room. I never want to prefer staring at a phone instead of relating to a person. I hate when someone is talking to me and at the same time looking at his or her phone. And yet, there I was, busily reading the news off this stupid (supposedly smart) screen when a real live person, complete with soul and story, stood in front of me without being seen.
Somehow, a newspaper would have been much easier to put down. But the phone… I had to consciously pull myself away to engage with reality. Like Alice in Wonderland, I seemed to disappear down the rabbit hole and rapidly fall through the device’s dark tunnel. It cost enormous energy to return to the Light and Breath.
Finally, there are the selfies. Of course, I took some. And without a doubt, I look stupid in most of them. Instead of renting a car, I rode a bike everywhere and loved it. So during one of my last days in California, I stopped and took a selfie while on the bike. When my brother saw it he said, “Where’s the bike? You could be anywhere wearing that helmet. There’s no bike in the photo, so how do I know you are riding one?”
So now you’ve heard my confession. I’m no longer a smartphone virgin and I stand before you without regrets. They say: “There’s no going back,” but I have returned to my shared dumbphone. Give me a call. My husband might answer.
 Elhai, J.D., Levine, J.C., Dvorak, R.D. and Hall, B.J., (2016). Fear of missing out, need for touch, anxiety and depression are related to problematic smartphone use, Computers in Human Behavior 63, pp. 509-516.
 Jacobsson Purewal, S. (July 17, 2015). “10 ways your smartphone can kill you,” greenblot. Retrieved 15 May 2018 from https://www.greenbot.com/article/2948814/smartphones/10-ways-your-smartphone-could-kill-you.html