I read the sentences twice through, then again.
The complexity of the language was unfamiliar at first, then becoming easier by the time my bus journey into town had ended. (It’s Edinburgh. One does not simply DRIVE into town. Parking?)
My twenty minute read had felt like a decent, filling breakfast of bacon and egg. Solid, satisfying, good. I picked that morning’s reading material out of my “decent books” collection a few days ago: “Far from the Madding Crowd“. Untouched since high school, but kept, as I loved it.
Folks, I had read a real book. A real paper book. And then I read another one. “The L-Shaped Room“. And then, a couple of days later, I read the next one in the series! I even FINISHED THE SERIES! Just like old times, before children, work, and general adulting. Gasp!
Books. As opposed to my usual reading material which for a while now had been … uh … the internet.
Facebook photography groups.
Or the news sites.
Or some junk in my Kindle app. Or maybe a pdf in my Adobe Reader app. Or let’s have a look at Instagram … What’s today’s challenge? Oooh, a Google + notification saying my awewsomised pictures are ready. Let’s have a wee look at G+ then, oh brilliant, there’s a new article from National Geographic photography, jeeze oh, that’s a fabulous picture, oh what, there are just nine wolves left on Michigan’s Isle Roayle National Park, that’s awful, where the heck is that anyway, lets open Google Maps and have a look, ugh, data signal struggling with this, I’ll just open the notepad app to remind myself to look this up later, oh, there’s a Whatsapp message, what, next Tuesday, hmm, not sure, better open the Google calendar see what’s in there, yep, that’s fine, better check into the Facebook event to update it, when I’m at it I’ll have a wee look in the primal/paleo group, see if there’s anything interesting I can make for tea, oh damn it, better remember to go to Sainsburys on the way home, what did I need to buy again, I’ll just open up my shopping list, eh, huh, heavens, look at those stunning shoes that woman a few seats up’s wearing, oh I need to take a sneaky photo of them to look up later, aw wait, hell’s bells, how come the battery’s down to 15% when it was at 100 when I got up this morning?!
(And if you found that paragraph hard to read, that’s what I found my head like. )
Aaaaaaaargggh the noise! The incessant, exhausting, brain-numbing noise.
That was my usual public transport trip anywhere for quite some time. It was pretty rubbish. My bones might have been sitting still but my mind was rushing around like a hoor on helium. It was tiring. It was pointless. And, like binging on junk food, you feel a bit sick afterwards.
Butterfly Brain Syndrome
My brain always had tons of tabs open at once, and I could never seem to actually read even one page through without thinking and then searching for loads of different ideas at the same time. It’s like I had this butterfly mind that was constantly flitting from idea to idea and for a long time it had been a constant challenge, trying to focus on one thing and execute it.
The internet absolutely did this to me.
Not so Smartphone
Getting a smartphone without giving myself boundaries was probably the biggest act of self-sabotage I’d committed in years. It would appear I’d invited the Time Vampires not only to tea, but to move in. To my HEAD.
It was like living in a fog: because the Time Vampires suck the intention and motivation out of you, it’s too easy to lose all your clarity about where you’re going and what you should be doing. Oh you’re doing something, alright, you’re making some sort of effort, you’re busy, but guess what, you’re getting nowhere. Your attention span gets shorter and shorter, till you mentally drift off fives times a paragraph when you actually attempt to read a proper book.
The day it died
Two years ago, my poor overworked smartphone gave me an obscene gesture and yelled “nooooooo, gimme a rest!”.
Then it died.
The charging port went kaput so the battery just … died. And I couldn’t recharge it.
For the first time in probably forever I went to bed with no phone beside me. Asked Himself to set his alarm for ridiculous o’clock for me. Took ages to get to sleep knowing that I didn’t have my own alarm clock any more. Woke up about ten times in the night panicking because I didn’t have a phone to reach for and blearily check the time. Surmised that as it was still dark, it probably wasn’t entirely stupid o’clock so it would be okay to go back to sleep. Stomach churned because I didn’t know long I’d have left to sleep. Fell asleep. Woke up again a wee bit later and had poke Himself in the ribs so I could double check he’d set his alarm for me. Himself growling something unmentionable before confirming I had two and a half hours left before having to get up.
Fear of Missing Out is most definitely a thing
The Fear of Missing Out attacked me savagely: the worry that something huge might be happening somewhere that I didn’t know about. Because at least normally with a functioning phone if I wanted to check Facebook or the news at four in the morning I could. But with a kaput phone, I couldn’t. If I, y’know, wanted to.
Stupid o’clock came.
Got up, didn’t check emails. Didn’t look at Facebook. Felt narked because I wanted to take a photo of the sun streaming through the trees – oooh pretty – but didn’t have time to dig out the big camera.
Wondered if the people I texted just before the phone died had got back to me. Worried that they’d think me an ignorant so-and-so for not getting back to them. Realised I couldn’t even remember whom I’d texted.
Contemplated going – OMG OMG – a whole day without a phone.
What I missed
Somehow, I managed it. But it was stressful. (Even more embarrassing to admit than needing a dictionary.)
After being clean for three days, I had read a whole book and was half way through another.
I’d hardly been on Facebook.
And I … oh jings, get this … actually used a proper dictionary. Several times, cause Far From the Madding Crowd has several Big Words I didn’t know. (Okay, so that’s embarrassing to admit.)
I missed having a calculator on my phone – I had to work out a PERCENTAGE one day! In my HEAD! Get me. Adulting!
I missed Instagram. I missed being able to take pretty decent quality photos on the go, wherever I was, that I could fire up into the cloud.
And I missed Google Maps if I was in an unfamiliar part of town. Though really, I’d lived in Edinburgh for 25 years and it’s not exactly a sprawling metropolis, so I’m never going to get properly lost.
I missed seeing what was going on in a couple of Facebook groups and idly checking the chat in the supermarket queue.
It wasn’t all bad
And that’s probably all I missed, really.
I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have internet access at all. I could check whatever I wanted, pretty much, at work, and I’ve a computer in the house. It was rather nice pulling out a Proper Book, all vintage-like, from my handbag at the start of those bus journeys into town.
It was nice not being distracted when I was doing stuff with the children.
It was nice not wondering if you should re-charge your phone, if there’s enough power in it to do you till you next get to a charger. It was nice being unplugged. You notice more of what’s going on around you. With my phone constantly in my hands, I felt I was a wee bit everywhere (G+, FB, email, news, Instagram, Flickr, etc etc) but not really anywhere.
Little voids of time were taken up with mindless entertainment on the phone, but without that entertainment, your mind finds other perfectly good things to do. Like observing what’s going on around you. Like reflecting on anything and everything. Or just sheer, simple zoning out. Wool gathering.
My smartphone first became an extension of my brain, then it became a crutch.
When I got it back
I sent it off for repair, and hoped I might not feel the same about it when I got it back.
And I didn’t. Not quite.
My only access to the online world when it was away was through an actual computer, so when I wasn’t sitting at one, I had no choice but to live in the real world and give my full attention to real people.
What a terrifying thought ..!
When I got it back, I realised I needed to have a good think about the way I was using it and Have a Word With Myself.
A couple of years later, I don’t take my phone to bed with me. When it’s left downstairs, the only thing I’m going to read is a real book. (Does a Kindle count?)
I use it as a camera a LOT, but I have most notifications turned off. I don’t need it as a sat nav anymore because, well, Tom-Tom.
Google runs my life and my work, and I need the calendar. I need the calculator. I need the email for children stuff and business stuff. I need that stuff on the go, so the smartphone stays.
But those few days on an enforced digital detox did a world of good, as it made me evaluate what I was doing.
As I drive nearly everywhere now, music or audiobooks are the thing while travelling, not all the mind-numbing junk I described I above.
Butterfly Brain was calmed and planning became my new addiction. And because I planned, I executed, and lots of good stuff happened. Last year, other things helped what my digital diet started and the incessant noise in my head has quietened considerably.
Smartphone addiction is most definitely a thing
I know this was absolutely what I had, and you only have to google it to see how rife it is nowadays.
I also know that all I have to do is start taking the thing to bed with me again and to allow myself to fall into the internet rabbit hole, and that’s the slippery slope.
I don’t want to go there again. (I know. First world problems. Sorry.)
What are your thoughts on smartphone addiction? Tell me on my Facebook page!