Our ancestors foraged for food in the wilderness. Here in the 21st century, we “hunt and gather” from the Walmart grocery app on our iPhones.
Our phones are our personal assistants all day, every day. We use them for thousands of helpful things: to place a hold on a library book, to text our child’s teacher, to navigate a new city. Personal tech has exploded during the last fifteen years, launching billions of tiny, powerful rectangles into each of our pockets.
But along with the blessing of continual connectedness comes the curse of frenetic hearts. We toggle between apps, in the name of productivity. But sometimes this tiny tool is actually thwarting our productivity, and exacerbating our anxiety.
Can you relate?
One Pinterest search for “air fryer zucchini” yields thousands of recipe results. After clicking through seven, I wonder which is the best, have I chosen wisely? Then I see it: a recipe for zucchini bread. I click on that. I spot something else, “Ooh, what’s that, an easy preschool craft with construction paper and pom balls?” Down the rabbit hole I go. Ding! My girlfriend texts, asking to borrow a boogie board. May as well check Facebook…Wow, look at that cute family with the color-coordinated outfits. Two of my kids won’t even wear pants. Where did the last thirty minutes go, and why did I pick up my phone in the first place? I can’t seem to remember. Now I’m running late and my stress level is rising.
How do we harness the best parts of technology, while leaving the stress-inducing and time-sucking powers behind? You’ve wondered if there’s a better way, and there definitely is.
Here are five helpful tips to avoid getting sucked into your phone:
Turn off push notifications on your phone.
Email. Facebook. Instagram. Do you really need a notification as soon as another person likes that picture of your lunch? Nah. You do not need a ding disguising itself as an emergency. Unless you are Jack Bauer from 24, and someone is waiting on you to save the world, the notification can wait for the window you have specifically scheduled. Which brings us to our next tip…
Check all apps on your own terms, not in real time.
You decide when to check those notifications. Maybe you create a space to check your apps in the morning, at lunch and again during nap time. Whatever works best for your schedule. Are you worried about taking too long to respond to a text? Many phones support an auto-reply option that will respond to incoming texts with “I am away from my phone right now,” or whatever you program it to say. The goal is to make your phone work for you, rather than you feeling enslaved to it.
Dock the phone when you don’t need it for a specific reason.
If your phone is in your pocket, you will naturally reach for it during lulls. This isn’t a character flaw, this is simply the way engineers have designed their apps to work. Whenever we get a notification on social media, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good. It makes sense that we are wired to seek more of it. But we should be mindful about reaching for our phone, rather than just scrolling to fill a quiet space. Sometimes we grab for it because there happens to be a lull, or to avoid a tedious chore. That’s when it becomes a productivity vacuum, a rectangle of anxiety. But when I dock my phone out of sight, working on chores or connecting with my kids in a different room, I am more productive and less distracted. I also treat my kids better. If a child approaches me mid-scroll, I am more likely to respond in an unloving way. But if one of my kids approaches me while I’m folding laundry or washing a dish, the “interruption” feels like a reprieve. I love hearing their stories and riddles—if I’m not preoccupied.
Phones disappear during family meals.
Phones are the great conversation killer. Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor who has written several books about how technology impacts society. Her research has shown that even the presence of a silent phone on the table or in hand changes what two people talk about and how connected they feel. “People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” Even pulling out a phone to search for a fact related to a conversation—kills the conversation. And when we don’t feel connected to the people we love, stress and anxiety grow.
Have grace for yourself and others.
Phones can be an incredibly useful partner in our fast-paced world. They are not inherently evil. They can read our Bibles aloud and stream sermons. They play music to help our kids memorize scripture. We can also use them to understand the rapidly changing world our kids are growing up in. We would do ourselves a disservice to check out of technology entirely. Instead, we create an intentional plan to put technology in its proper place in our homes.
What does this look like in your home? What house rules or guiding principles help your family navigate technology?
Molly DeFrank is a mom and foster mom to five kids under ten. She writes about faith and motherhood—the hilarious and the hard; the fun and the maddening; the beauty and the blunders. She loves to share encouragement and laughter with women just like her. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, or her website, www.mollydefrank.com.