Do you remember when you got your first smartphone? I do. Having instant access to all the internet offers, right there in my pocket, a quickdraw from my eyes, felt magical. Now more than a decade later, most phones are “smart,” yet maybe they’re making us dumber, or at least less brilliant, as we’ve become ever more glued to our tiny digital overlords.
Manoush Zomorodi, host of the Note to Self podcast, spoke recently at Mozilla about the downside to our digital devotion. It starts like this. You have a few minutes, so you reach for you phone. When you’re waiting for a dental appointment. Riding the bus. Having coffee. Watching your kid play soccer. Waiting for a movie to start. In between meetings. And what do you do? You check your email. Scan the headlines. Connect a dot or two. Watch some cat videos. Scroll through social. Slay a dragon. Order light bulbs.
Tap. Scroll. Swipe. Zone out. Time passes.
All the formerly unoccupied in-between time is now is booked by our phones. We like to think we’re being efficient and getting stuff done, but in fact, we’re denying our brains something critical — boredom.
The demographics most likely to have a screen problem are teens, college students and middle age parents, so as a middle age parent of a teen and a ‘tween, Manoush’s talk (you can watch it all here) hit me hard. I took stock of our household patterns. Frequent double-taps and checks for likes. Incessant BBC News, NPR and New York Times alerts. Snapchat streaks of 200+ days. Needy games burbling. Emails chiming. Texts buzzing. Are we stuck in a technology loop?
As Manoush says, let’s get bored
With daylight savings time just passing and the crocuses smiling, spring seemed like a good time to reset my digital clock by trying Manoush’s Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp. Here’s how it works.
Challenge week ramps up, seemingly easy, but not so much. When you’re on the go, keep your phone in your bag or your pocket. Walk without checking your phone. Turn off notifications! Set yourself free from the alerts, and just be.
My take: Two things. 1) I always have phone in my pocket, so I went for the bag option. You know that panicky feeling when you think you’ve lost your phone? That’s what this feels like. All. The. Time. 2) Turning off the notifications is easy. Keeping them off is hard.
In our relentless quest to document life through filtered photography, we forget to just be present and see the world around us. Try going photo-free for a day, and take in what you see through your own eyes instead of your screen.
My take: I don’t have a problem not taking photos for a day, so I upped the ante for myself and said no for the week. Starting right… after I take a shot of those sweet crocuses out front…
When Manoush mentioned her favorite game, Two Dots, I felt instantly twitchy. I kicked Two Dots a year ago, stuck on an infuriating level. I sulked for a few weeks, then moved on to Clash Royale, joining a clan with my kids. It was fun talking elixir levels and deck strategy, and sharing tales of epic battles. During the weekend quests, however, I noticed a handful of clan members played for hours upon hours to score the Clan Chest. It made me sad. Games are fun, but they’re also addicting by design, which doesn’t feel good.
As Manoush and her guest Nir Eyal noted in the episode, the upside of data collection by app makers is that they know who is using and abusing apps. They can see who is spending an unhealthy amount of time on their products, and they can help people, but only if they choose.
My take: I removed a particular blue social media icon from my phone, and I have FOMO. At the same time, I don’t want to give up five years of my life to this monkey in my back pocket. Ugh!
As a remote worker, being plugged in and digitally available is equivalent to being at one’s desk. And yet, perpetual connectivity is debilitating to creativity and flow. The group I work with at Mozilla holds a wonderful cultural norm to keep Fridays meeting-free, which frees my colleagues to change locations, go for walks, have lunch away, think, ideate, write, talk, draw and generally reconnect with creativity without being tethered to meetings. Many (all?) of us find Fridays liberating and rejuvenating.
My take: I closed email and switched my Slack status to “In Flow/Not Avail.” Uninterrupted focus feels good and is much more productive.
Permission to kick back and observe granted. Tap your imagination. Let your mind wander. You know how you come up with great ideas in the shower? Mind wandering away from a screen is when you come up with your most interesting and novel ideas. Don’t cheat yourself of that! Look up from your phone and notice things. As Rita J. Kane, a futurist, told Manoush: Be radically present.
My take: Taking this challenge reminded me that people watching was a favorite pastime that I’ve dropped because of my phone.
At the start of the challenge, I did suffer a bout of FOMO, and I can’t say I’ve completely shaken that feeling. Being disconnected from news alerts makes me feel out of touch. But I do look up more, make better eye contact, and have more attentive conversations. I found surprises, glimmers and ideas in the cracks of my day, and I kinda liked that.
Are you in?
How about you? How are your screen habits? Are you concerned about digital addiction? And if so, what are you doing about it? Post a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
Bertrand Russell got there first – and he was speaking of children. An easy out from the challenge of boredom breeds non-thinking generations. For once, Russell was not tongue-in-cheek or insidiously wrong.
Can’t seem to find where Russell was wrong. Please enlighten us.
Your comment stole my smile :-), because while reading this post I remembered some phrases of Bertrand Russell in “The Conquest of Happiness”.
OH, how we loved finally seeing someone come to their senses regarding these master manipulators called Smart Phones.
Call us Old Foges but we resisted for ever so long before we even got around to owning one. Your noodle is always best, don’t fall for belonging to the Sheeple Society! Keep independent thinking alive and well.
I do not own a smart phone, so some of this does not apply, but I live in front of my laptop screen most of the day, where between e-mail and Facebook, and to some extent Twitter, much does. I also spend too many late-night hours in front of TV, splitting my attention with an addictive game on relative’s iPad; of course, preiPad I would have been munching during late-night TV, so kind of neutral there—that’s end-of-day wind-down, anyway, though I need to watch cutting into good sleep time.
What a wonderful suggestion: ‘Let’s get bored!’
I dare to ask we go one step further: ‘Let’s get still. This is where the creativity is born!’
The smart phone is just another part of human evolution. In theory evolution leads humans to a world where everyone is smarter and lives longer. But when you look at a friend that has become hooked on the smart phone and social media the theory totally falls apart.
My 8 year old grandson is allowed 30 minutes a day total on any device (and he is diabetic so he needs to carry a smart phone on his body to relay his blood sugar level to his caregivers but is not allowed to use it as a phone). We even try not to fill in gaps when he might benefit from boredom, say when sitting together on the subway. This gives him time to be in his thoughts. My “childhood-cognition-researcher” Daughter-in-law pointed out this benefit when I arrived to become the nearby grandma. Sometimes we will step off the subway and he will want to tell us want he was thinking about.
Thanks – mainly for personal open-ness to an aspect that shows into most peoples all-day-lives.
I do really love to forget my phone sometimes (sometimes even on purpose) to achieve a certain distance to the described addiction -> very interesting effects pop up now and then.
Going on holidays we manage 4 weeks without books (and at least two concerning cells) -> also very interesting in feeling the inner buzz reduce more and more.
keep it up – you’re doing yourself a big favour !
I added up what I have spent on mobiles and mobile services since 1998 – and was edified by a $20K plus conservative expenditure. I dumped the mobile, the account and gave three iPhones (2 were a bit old) to a charity. I am still a bit unsure after 4 months of “without mobility”. I dumbed down to a flip phone but after seeing the manual of 127 pages, yes all in english, to operate the thing, I donated it too. Everyone wants me to use a “smart phone” – banks, retailers, individuals (and yes, people no longer contact me – it’s simply too much work to pick up a receiver and call someone or send a quick email … this says a lot about our lack of communication in a high tech communications world.
Even before advent of smart phone people had to put up with “boredom” and nobody was unduly worried about it. Now people have become “tetchy”and think every moment of their life should be usefully spent and feel restless when they encounter boredom in the wake of “nothing to do”. Meditation is the best way to spend the excess time .
I have to have a smartphone for work, but I rarely look at it outside of work hours. I go home and it stays in my pocket for the most part until I put it on the charger at the end of the night. BTW, the charger is in the kitchen and the phone is in silent mode.
I am grateful that I do not have the draw to look at it constantly.
My favorite thing to tell my friends about smartphone addiction is
“it’s not Oxygen, you can breath without it”
I don’t need to opt out, I never opted in in the first place. But then I’m oldfashioned, old too.
I like your article, it mentions a problem that most people from young to old are not aware off. They ride in the digital world and let the world and the there and now pass them by. It is a great pity.
I would not talked about boredom, to me boredom is looking at a white wall with nothing on it and nothing around you. If someone puts down their smartphone for a little while, he will soon start observing people and things around or let his mind wander. The hardest thing being to loose the reflex of grabing that phone before one has plunged into observing the world.
I have had a smartphone for 14 years. A Japanes one where one would rotate the screen to get to the keyboard, very clever, then Treo, and Iphone. I love the technology and I am very aware of the dangers of it.
I have no alerts, except for appointments, I missed too many of them. When I meet another person or have an interesting conversation, the phone stays in my bag, where it always is. My phone does not ring, it just vibrates and if I do not hear it because I am in public transport, well tough luck. If it is urgent, they will ring again otherwise, I will ring back. The same goes for Whatsap.
As for Instagram, Fb and co, reading mails and check the news, I do it once or twice day. At familly get togethers, phones and other playstations have to be put away. So the kids have to talk to each other, and it works.
I think it would be quite normal for the data provided by users on Facebook to be made aware of who is handling this sistem.But it is equally predictable and perhaps also logical that this private information will be disclosed or even sold for advertising purposes. The user who registers, realizes that his data will never be more private and will be controlled by web managers.So you can decide not to register.Then as in all companies even among the managers of Facebook,there will be someone who opens themselves up to their own interests to divulge or even sell the private data of others.In short it is not a novelty. Facebook will not be an exception. And he will not be a saint as nobody is. But whoever is wrong, must answer.
Thanks for permission.
A pleasure to read the article and witness a brain in top gear. A smart ‘phone, please note the correct punctuation, is a miniscule object with massive limitations causing miniscule brains to remain static.
Facebook, touted as social media is the most anti-social media ever created because responsible social groups in the real world are very selective when choosing members, and Facebook with the very childish format of the ‘friends’ situation and the continuous stream of People You May Know appearing on the screen is more annoying than a continuous queue of people knocking on the front door of one’s home rattling a tins collecting for charity.
Two short visits to the Facebook site proved to me that my assesment is correct.
Thank you for the opportunity to read your article.
Thanks so much for sharing your perception. The truth of it kind of sneaks up on me in the vague world of mind numbness, where I’m not totally present but not totally anywhere. Kind of like seeing the eyes of people in box stores leaning over their shopping carts to carry their weight, turning up one aisle and then down the other, or was it to the side, over to the other aisle. Could that be me? Oh no. Certainly not. It’s just those people.
Or might it be a metaphor for understanding where we are at…as a nation, as a world?
I am ready to start getting bored,lets do This
Great Advice ! It is very fortunate for me that I have a small farm where I work about 3 days a week which is completely devoid of cell phone coverage . As a consequence I already appreciated the benefits of being offline. The world seems to manage quite well without my interaction and is still there at the end of the day. Being 73 probably helps but I can remember when we all coped quite well with no mobile phones (and plastic shopping bags!)
Well written, reminds me of a drawing by E.M. Escher, Ascending and Descending, people going up to the top step to find themselves on the bottom step.
How about spending a little time exploring boredom?
What is it actually, and why do I get bored?
I heard about this phenomenon on the radio about a year ago, not sure if it was Manoush being interviewed or another researcher. It scared me. I’ve rearranged my apps on my phone so that those on the home screen are the ones that actually create productivity or I consider a more valuable use of time, eg. I’ve moved social media apps to later screens and moved e-book reading apps to the front page. At home I try to put my phone down, either plugged in or beside the plug, and leave it there unless I absolutely need to check something and then put it back in it’s place right away. I’ve tried to become more aware of when I’m using my phone for entertainment vs. productivity, even reading the news can become a form of entertainement if you allow it, so I try not to let that happen with anything I might use my phone for.
I only carry my cell in my purse when I go somewhere in my car in case I have car trouble. I never give out the number and leave it in my purse when at home. I keep it near my computer so if it needs to be charged I hear it. LOLOL Not addicted at all. My daughter had me on her plan for a while and I found I didn’t like texting because it took the flavor of voice communication out of it. I see people glued to their phone, both walking and driving, and think how lucky I am not to be. Call me “NOT ADDICTED”. I did take it with me when I worked for the Red Cross on Katrina.
In 1999, I sat down with 5 years worth of phone bills. I reviewed my cell phone usage for the entire period. . .AND, I “DISCOVERED THAT DURING THAT FIVE YEAR PERIOD THERE WERE ONLY 6 (six) phone calls that NEEDED to be made “mobile!” And, five of those phone calls occurred during one 24 hour period. ..during a REAL EMERGENCY (when the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge collapsed due to an earthquake!)
I immediately called Sprint (my provider) and Cancelled my Contract. . .informing that if they did not cancel the contract; and, refund me a $1,000 (a reasonable number, I felt) I would sue them in Small Claims Court for “FRAUD in the Inducement” to signing me up. Because they actually claimed I would “Need the cell phone for my business, etc!” After six months of “back & forth” they did, in fact, cancel the contract. . .And, did receive a check for $1,000 (I had actually had the telephone for almost 10 years). . .
That occurred 18 years ago. . .And, ya wanna know something? I still do NOT have a cell phone or “smart phone.” And, the sun still comes up in the morning! The Earth did NOT go spinning off into space!
I have a “land line” telephone; and, I have a desk-top computer attached to that land-line. I also love movies; and, I can buy VHS tapes for 10 cents at the local thrift store (DVD’s are a buck!)
I also read REAL newspapers (the Wall Street Journal, etc) and REAL magazines and periodicals (The New York Review of Books). . .And, like the “hero” or Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Montag, I read REAL books (The county library is free!) And, while visiting the thrift store, I also can buy REAL books. . .on any topic. . .for a buck or two (“Best Sellers” appear on the shelves within 6 months or so of their publication). . .
I also do not need a “service” such as satellite or cable TV. . .[see above]. . .I get over 30 channels with an “old-fashioned” roof-top TV antenna! No monthly fees; and, the antenna I have is over 25 years old (occasionally I have to replace a wiring connection, etc. . .but, that is nickels and dimes)
I also receive current news via PBS and NPR (which I can “support” with a monthly tax-deductilble contribution)
As a long-ago pitchman on TV used to say: “Try it! You’ll like it!”
I can agree with the premise, but it isn’t an absolute. I check emails and messages only when I hear a signal, and quite often ignore that till a later time. On the other hand, I have quite a few tools on my phone that I use, bubble level, compass, sound meter, etc. I also have a chess game, a solitaire game with all the cards open so you have to plans moves, 5 books including the lives of Nicola Tesla, and Thomas Edison. I find the phone a convenient asset. It is my encyclopedia (Wikipedia), and a reference source for everything when I want information.
Having a phone is not the problem, how you use it is.
Stephen Hawking, who just passed away said “Look up at the sky, not at your feet”, he could have added “or your phone”
Wow, a rehash of Sherry Turklism. How original.
Brilliant! Well put.
As a child I couldn’t help but be awed by television, in my twenties the cell phone seemed absurd unless you were a business person, when the internet came out I couldn’t see it’s practical use, when the smart phone came out I saw it as a communication tool with many useless gadgets, when social media came out I perceived it as unreal, people that would never talk to you for longer than a few minutes in person would want to share their entire lifetime with you online, that surely was odd to me.
Now I see VR as humans next fascination and undoubtedly the next addiction.
Our reality has many things that may cause us to want to escape it and as a mortal I know, I see it, I feel it and very deeply quite frankly sometimes I despair and wish to vanish from it but that is not an option.
I guess creating a reality that offers an alternative to our strange world into an even stranger world is appealing to many, but as history has shown human progression and personal improvement doesn’t happen while remaining in a state of distraction or entertainment, it requires the acknowledgment of our stagnation followed by a course of action, which leads to the realisation that change is imperative in order improve our individual condition and by default that of the world around us.
The above mentioned as I have grown in my human experience I see as natural cahnges in our evolution as humans, I have adapted to many of them but not all since many of them are like any physical object and can quite possibly become an addiction depending on individual personality. I observe that no matter what age we live in advanced or not, we usually don’t appreciate the present moment, we live being nostalgic about the past and anxious about the future. Most recently I find it best to breathe deep, absorb the the universe around me, acknowledge my mortal existence among the stars and simply be.
I find it peaceful to be in touch with nature, deep down Iinside I know we all do.
It is impossible to ignore the biological world around us because the natural world is amazing and ever present.
We can build all kinds of technological wonders to display human ingenuity and advancement but they will always be subservient to the natural world.
I reroute my contacts to ping me on email, home or office stationary phone if they need something, and completely turned off my cellphone (three weeks ago). It was best feeling being free again and feel places and events in real-time, walking on streets and parks without continuous annoying distractions. Seeing cellphone zombies all around, it is real horror. I feel like a unleashed Neo in Matrix. 🙂 Give it a try. Turn the goddamn thing off just for one day.
Brilliant. Perfect. Great. Good point.
When we are vacation with camera in hand or smart phone in pocket I am always looking for “the shot”. In my rush to document everything it seems like I don’t see anything. I don’t need that pressure when I am supposed to be relaxing.
“Music, when soft voices die/vibrates in the memory”. This wonderful experience won’t happen if you’re on your phone. My friend gave me a smartphone. There are several hundred pages to read on how to use it that I have not read, so I just use it in an emergency or to save costs phoning a mobile from a landline. The real world around us is wonderful – enjoy it.
Good article! And I’m a bit relieved: I hear worse addictions than mine exist but I still think I waste too much time on social media. On the other hand: I am never bored but not bec I use my cellphone all the time. I work in the garden, watch the birds, draw, paint, read (real books). So many things to do apart from cellphones!
I have always liked being alone with my thoughts and have always felt sorry for plane passengers who were nervous wrecks until they got their headsets so they could be “entertained.” I find it mind-blowing that Jeep thinks its owners are grateful for instant radio blasting when they turn on their engines, another item that underlines my observations that American humanity, and maybe everywhere else too, will have nervous breakdowns if they are not entertained incessantly. But guess what? I realized I was a full-bore smartphone junkie 2 years ago, and I did everything you said in your article all on my own. All of it (and boy, was it great for battery charge length). Within a week, I did not miss the darn thing one bit. Now, when I have a long wait somewhere, I might pick up my phone to read articles I’ve saved to Pocket or scan the news. I am a Pocket fan, and I like having something hopefully enlightening and/or stimulating to do with my time when I’ve got to wait, say, at the doctor’s office–but Pocket does have its share of articles that weren’t quite as relevant or interesting as I’d hoped, and any other web surfing I do while I wait seems inane and very often blatant baloney. Interesting that I thought this was all educational 2 years ago. I feel sorry for people who can’t stand listening to their own heads. Kind of reminds me of “I have a collect call from Mr. Floyd to Mr. Floyd. Will you accept charges? He hung up!” Don’t hang up on yourselves, people 🙂
I completely agree with the author, people (Adults and kids) seem to have been addicted to the smart phones so much that they cant stay away a arms distance from them.
Luckily, I haven’t been that addicted right from the start. All the features of smart phone like browsing, social media, games, selfies though had fascinated me, couldn’t get me hooked on to it. I spend the least possible time with the smart phones (Unlike my kids who feel my advise is from a 45 year old man who has lost all interest in world 🙂 )
I don’t take calls while driving, even if the ringtone is irritating, I let it ring. People have false expectations (already set as right) that if the phone is ringing, you have to answer – does not matter you are having a prayer time, sleep, driving, lunch/dinner, in a movie, fun with friends, you are sick or you are attending to someone sick.
Most importantly, there is a need for us to know that the person we are calling will answer the call if he is around the phone or when he is free to talk to you or he will return the call as soon as he can (there is list of missed calls), more importantly, he should fee that he needs to answer to your call 🙂
Detoxification from the digital world is as much needed as we are working in the digital world (No more than 9 hours of work per day)
Except in emergencies , How we know if its a emergency call?
Ring back immediately for the second time for the other person to know the urgency, leave a message.
Just my feelings!
Right on! Finding a balance between having “…the Whole World in our Hands” (to paraphrase the famous song)… and experiencing the world around us, is vital. Thanks for some great tools to get back to “where we ought to be…” ( the song, Simple Gifts.)
Through supposedly increasingly “better” and annual free upgrades I have progressed to a so called smart phone. I have so far added no additional APPS for this phone which I find is not so smart. I used to be able to have texts listed and filed as Received and Sent and Drafts. Not possible any more it seems according to the phone shops’ staff.
If I am not expecting a call I dare I even say it….. very often leave my phone at home.. I switch it OFF at night and frequently leave calls unanswered and texts sometimes not viewed for hours especially when I am not expecting any contacts that day.
Other electronic devices, I do have a free tablet and telly tablet … both unused I did though buy a Kobo as there are loads of free books available online.
Just sitting or walking doing nothing else but roam my own headspace… I do daily.
Photographs taken with my phone ..not every month.
I worked in the Telecomms industry for over forty years I had the first pager the first PDA and one of the first mobiles. a suit case nearly.whilst I acknowledge the sheer necessity of a mobile for insurrance if nothing else,I abhor smart phones ,smart televisions,and smart meters,in saying all that I do still have a mobile that is switched off until I need it
Maybe I missed one of the main points and didn’t catch it, but I feel this article is a little misleading. There is no new insight here into why people do what they do, no science presented to further the cause that boredom is essential in our cognitive process or recharging. I only see insulated common-knowledge and best practices that illustrate Internet citizenship but not expert opinion. Can you guys do a follow-up and pull from some primary or credible secondary sources that can really dig into the psychology of this? It’s a fascinating topic, I’m just interested to learn more.
March 15th, 2018 marked a one year stint of living without a cell phone (smart or not).
I’m going to write an article about it soon. I’ll say, in my case, I found out who my true friends were – and overall I became a happier person. That’s the extremely short version.
I really like all you said about addiction to smartphones and their aftereffects to people’s brains and ultimately to their life. The challenge is how can I survive being almost 100% surrounded by sociery living like that i.e. at work, home, public places, everywhere etc. Its really a big challenge.
Becoming “smart” is going out without any phones for me. No music, no pictures no no no
Nature and me, even in busy places…
No, no and no
Caring about myself means helping my enviroment. Say hello to any one, getting back a smile.
No phone can do so.
My comment is late because of the fact that I do not live by my screen and only look at it at best every 48 hours. There are several points I would like to make as to why it is a good idea to break the smartphone addiction. 1. On occasions, people have been so busy taking photos of an incident that they have left themselves in danger. 2. Young children need and deserve your attention or they won’t grow up to be rounded adults and will even have trouble learning to converse. 3. Sometimes people who are always going round saying they are bored turn out to be the most boring people alive. They just haven’t learnt to work their way around it even though they have everything at their fingertips but they really just don’t have anything to say that might light a spark of mutual interest in others.