How Smart Phones Can Make Us Less Connected to What Really Matters

by John Soares on April 17, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombings shocked and saddened me, as they did many other people in the United States and abroad.

At first I wasn’t going to post this week. But as I reflected on how life can so easily and suddenly be snuffed out, I thought about how important it is for us to be truly connected with one another and with the world.

This reminded me of the excellent TED talk given by Sherry Turkle, based on her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

She argues that our pervasive interaction with our smart phones leads to less depth in our relations with the people we love and the world as a whole.

I don’t have a smart phone, although I do have a basic Tracfone I use when I travel. I get that smart phones can be useful in many ways, but I try to keep my life as simple as possible, and I’m happier with less connection to technology.

Your Take

How does your smart phone impact your life and/or the lives of those around you? How could you change your phone use to make your life better?

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    { 23 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 6:33 AM

    Interesting that this issue is addressed in Dear Abby today:

    Wife’s Affair With Cellphone Leaves Man Feeling Cheated
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    2 Sarah Russell April 17, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    Twitter: @writeearnchange

    I’ll admit it – I need some serious work in this area. What should have been a helpful tool for somebody with a mobile business has turned into a time-suck that occupies hours I should be spending face-to-face with my husband and keeps me from falling asleep on time because I need to check Facebook just once more.

    Besides the obvious issues, I’m also concerned that it’s conditioned my brain to crave activity. Instead of spending downtime day dreaming or brainstorming, I feel compelled to occupy every spare moment with some type of digital activity.

    Of course, recognizing this and actually doing something about it are two very different things :)

    Reply

    3 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 7:45 AM

    Sarah, I think you are exhibiting symptoms of addiction to your phone.

    Set a schedule for when your phone can be on and set limits on how long you will spend using your phone.

    Also set boundaries regarding what you will do on the phone. Some fun stuff is OK, but be careful not to overdo it. I have nearly 500 friends on Facebook, so somebody’s posting something nearly every minute or so; however, I only visit 2-3 times per day for brief periods, and I only pay attention to truly important and interesting items.

    I also suggest that you have extended periods during the day that your phone is off and out of sight. And definitely keep it off at night.
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    4 Sarah Russell April 17, 2013 at 9:19 AM

    Twitter: @writeearnchange

    Haha – yep, definitely in full-on addiction mode :)

    Thanks for the suggestions. If only it was easy to put them into practice as it is to know that they should be implemented!

    Reply

    5 Cathy Miller (@millercathy) April 17, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    Great video, John. Funny, I was just talking yesterday with strangers waiting in line at a UPS store. We were talking about what happened in Boston. I don’t remember how we got there, but the conversation turned to smartphones.

    I made the comment that I can find no reason for children owning smartphones. I can appreciate the possible need for a phone for emergencies (life has changed the family situation); however, what possible reason is there for children having access to the internet, games, texting that a smartphone provides.

    I do have a smartphone. I purchased it when I started my own business. I have an easier time than most of ignoring its blinking red light that signals a message or shutting it off for periods of time. Yet, for all my ability to ignore it, I have seen my behavior change. I hope I stay aware enough to shut it off rather than letting it control my life.

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion, John.
    Cathy Miller (@millercathy) recently posted…The Overnight Secret to Better Business Writing

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    6 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    Cathy, I’m also concerned about children and teens and smart phones. Research shows correlations between use of smart phones and other technology and increased attention-deficit problems.

    It’s a very difficult issue when it comes to teens. Smart-phone use is so prevalent among teens that a teen that isn’t frequently connecting with peers can feel, and actually be, very out of the loop.
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    7 Cheryl Rhodes April 17, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    Three years ago my husband and I bought iPhones, mostly due to the scheduling capabilities. My husband is a contractor and sometimes not so good at writing down his appointments. If I get them on my computer then we can sync both iPhones to get it on all the calendars. Works well for all appointments. Two days ago I was walking my dogs and I heard my iPhone reminder bell go off. I thought it was reminding me of a payment automatically coming out of my account in about 15 minutes and ignored it. When I arrived home I needed to phone someone whose number is saved in my iPhone. I turned the phone on and the reminder I’d ignored was to drive my father to a doctor appointment in 90 minutes. He now lives in an extended care residence and the doctor about half hour drive away. I phoned his significant other and she hadn’t recorded the appointment anywhere and she is very organized about these things and usually phones to remind me the day before or the day of. So the only place anyone had the appointment recorded was inside my iPhone and I must have recorded it the last time Father saw that doctor in February. I have no idea why it didn’t sync over to my laptop, but all was good. I got him there in time. And we still waited an hour to see the doctor!

    When I’m in doctor waiting rooms or waiting for my horses to finish eating I’ll check the iPhone for email, surf the Internet a bit, maybe go on Facebook, but for the most part I don’t use it that much. I’m not a texter or chatter.

    Reply

    8 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Cheryl, smart phones can be very useful, as your example illustrates. And you are also one of the people who has a good handle on when to use the smart phone and when not to.

    As an aside, my friend Lane Michel helps run a horse sanctuary in Siskiyou County in far northern California called Humanity for Horses. He was telling me all about it over dinner Sunday evening.
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    9 Erica April 17, 2013 at 8:01 AM

    Twitter: @JustDuckyWriter

    I’m very guilty of this. What astounds me is that I can let a phone call go straight to voicemail but I have to check my email every 20-30 minutes at least. Even as late as 9:30 p.m. Thank goodness my smartphone is so old it won’t support a Twitter app.

    But I’ve been trying something these past couple of weeks. I’ve set a timer on my smartphone to go off once an hour and that’s the only time I’m allowed to check my email. When I can actually hold to that (am getting better), I’ll increase the time to 1.5 hours, then 2 and so on until I’m more tuned in with what I’m doing at the moment than with wondering what’s in my inbox.

    I can tell you this, though — planning a wedding does not help reduce my email habit. Argh.

    Reply

    10 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    Erica, I like your plan to slowly wean yourself from checking e-mail too frequently.

    I’m not sure what time you go to bed, but it’s a good idea to be away from all technology for an hour or more before lights out.
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    11 Erica April 18, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    Twitter: @JustDuckyWriter

    Thanks, John. Good advice. I do read for about an hour before falling asleep. Always have. But the smartphone with its tempting email song is just right there.

    On the bright side, it also helps me stay connected to my loved ones through text messaging when we can’t email or call. Last night I discovered that one of my dearest loved ones is feeling lonely, isolated and overwhelmed. We agreed to text each other throughout the day and the look of relief on her face is worth any inconvenience.
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    12 John Soares April 18, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    Erica, I do see how smart phones can be useful for staying connected with people we care about.
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    13 sandra tyler April 17, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    Twitter: @woventale

    I’m not addicted to my phone. But I am addicted to my cyber friends and circles and I love blogging. As a writer who was blocked for years, it has gottem me back on track and I value greatly all the connections I’ve made. I’m also a stay-at-home-mom-writer with little social interaction most days with adults so it is an outlet. Maybe this is all different from checking your phone and Facebook which I don’t think I do that much of…

    Reply

    14 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    Sandra, I also spend a lot of time alone writing, so I understand the desire to reach out to others through social media. I do some interacting through Facebook. I’m also a moderator in the Freelance Writers Den and an active member of About Writing Squared.

    It is important to limit the amount of time we spend online, especially if we want to be productive writers.
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    15 Gene Burnett April 17, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    I don’t even need to watch this talk John. I see it every single day over and over and over. I can’t stand those things. I find them socially destructive and individually weakening and dangerous. I will never carry any kind of online platform with me. I love being online and I’m online a lot, but when I leave the house I want to be in the physical world, not the virtual one. I love that clear delineation. A song from my upcoming album might be the least politically and socially correct song I’ve written yet (and that’s saying a lot!).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWQ2l8m5N1M

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    16 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    I’m with you Gene. I keep online time within fairly tight limits, and that’s all either at home or in coffee shops. I saw a group of young teenagers walking through Lithia Park the other day, and all the teens were looking at their phone screens. This with spring blooming all around them.
    John Soares recently posted…Top 10 Ways to Be a More Productive Freelance Writer

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    17 Lori April 17, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Twitter: @LoriWidmer

    Great topic, John.

    I’ve had a smart phone for a year now. I’d love to say how it’s simplified my life or made me tons of money. Neither. You actually have to pick them up and use them for that to happen, I think.

    I’m with you — I’m not one who enjoys the 24/7 connectivity that society seems to demand. In fact, I’m so contrarian that when people demand I get on board the 24/7 train, I turn the damn thing off entirely. I won’t have technology dictating my movements.

    I do use the sync functions quite often, and I do like that I can access my documents on my phone. Do I? No. But it’s there should something warrant it.

    Reply

    18 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    Lori, it sounds like you have very good control over what you do with your smart phone. It’s interesting that you don’t use it much. Does it justify the expense, I wonder? Isn’t it $50-100 a month with a two-year commitment?
    John Soares recently posted…Why and How Successful Freelance Writers Set Goals

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    19 Anne Wayman April 17, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    John, I don’t have a smartphone! I don’t have a tv… strange for someone who loves tech as much as I do, at least sometimes. I have no idea if this makes me more connected to family and loved ones or not.
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    20 John Soares April 17, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    Anne, I don’t have a smart phone. I do watch a bit of TV, usually comedy on streaming Netflix, but not more than 2-3 hours per week.

    My partner Stephanie and I just discovered Portlandia and we’re really liking it..
    John Soares recently posted…How Being Late Hurts Your Freelance Writing Career and Your Life

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    21 Ryan locksmith April 18, 2013 at 8:13 AM

    I have avoided buying a smartphone for fear of becoming one of the zombies roaming about with their heads down, paying little attention to the real world around them in favour of reading what their old schoolfriend is having for lunch, complete with picture of course.

    Maybe evolution and natural selection will favour those with poor eyesight, lack of vocal chords and a USB port where the belly button used to be?

    Reply

    22 John Soares April 18, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    I really like your description Ryan: “…zombies roaming about with their heads down, paying little attention to the real world around them.”
    John Soares recently posted…Top 10 Ways to Be a More Productive Freelance Writer

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    23 Gaurav Saboo June 28, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    I have avoided buying a smartphone for fear of becoming one of the zombies roaming about with their heads down, paying little attention to the real world around them in favour of reading what their old schoolfriend is having for lunch, complete with picture of course.

    Maybe evolution and natural selection will favour those with poor eyesight, lack of vocal chords and a USB port where the belly button used to be?

    Reply

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