Last year I had a painful break-up. With my phone.
It was a tough time. There was soul-searching. There was unhappiness. There was a stern-talking to from myself. I knew it was for the best though.
I felt like all my son, nearly two at the time, saw me do was pick up my phone. I didn’t want him to see it as a surgically-attached extension of myself. I didn’t want him growing up with the same level of addiction as my usage statistics suggested.
Like any issue in your life, there is a self-help tome to guide you through the choppy waters. Catherine Price’s “How to Break-Up With Your Phone” was there to navigate me through the separation with a thirty day plan.
So from challenges such as tracking my usage, deleting social media apps, journalling my sense of loss and even turning it off FOR AN ENTIRE WEEKEND, I began to break my habits. Phones are designed and refined to manipulate your brain chemistry to create addictive behaviours. But it was no longer the first thing I reached for in the morning and I even left it downstairs when I went to bed. I was clean. I read forty plus books over the year. I even took up writing. I started a blog…
And that’s where it went horribly wrong. In October, I made a digital booty call to Apple. I created this blog site, a facebook page and an Instagram account. I started to hit myself up with likes, comments, shares and followers, bathing in the dopamine response it gave me. I was a relapsed phone junkie.
But this time I have delved even deeper in to the black-hole. My usage has pretty much tripled. It’s exponentially grown as I have tried to develop an audience for my musings. I have sold my soul whole-heartedly to Instagram.
My day is now punctuated by candid snapshots of my little man in every area of his daily life. The highs. The lows. The in-betweens. Everything that my mum-blog bio suggests. Then there’s the time spent sifting through the copious photos. And the captioning. And the selecting hashtags for engagement. And the responding to comments. And the liking of other people’s posts. And the stories. And… and… and…
Then I worry about my public profile. Who is seeing these images? Who is sharing them? I am baring our life for the world to access should they choose to. It would be naive to presume that everyone is just there for the fine-motor skill activities and attractive ways of presenting lunch for toddlers. That scares me.
So why do I still do it? What it is that drives me to share my thoughts, my feelings, my bad days, my moments of joy with people I’ve never met and probably never will?
It’s the joy in communication. It’s the forming of relationships – albeit over the internet (although I’m lucky to say I’ve Instagram mum-dated face-to-face!). It’s the sharing of my story and assimilating that with other people’s narratives. And it’s the dopamine – it really is, as the science of self-help says, addictive. It’s the feel-good chemical that is released by experiences. It feels good when someone has read your words; liked the little snapshot of life that you’ve shared; related to your adventures. And every time something feels good – our brain recognises the cause and effect. Do it again! And again! And again till you spend more time capturing life than living it.
Not all bad
We are currently making history books with the unprecedented measures put in place due to COVID-19 and the national lockdown. What have people turned to in lieu of life outside? Life has begun to exist through our phones. I can’t tell you how many invites I’ve had to the Housparty App or how many hours I’ve spent chatting online. I used to call my mum, regularly yes, but now we have 1-2 daily FaceTime sessions. Without this lifeline, isolation would feel a lot more claustrophobic; a lot more lonely.
Every day you chalk up under house arrest, there’s the challenge of entertaining of toddler within the confines of your home. Without the inspiration of a myriad of mothers on Instagram, all in the same boat, there’d have been a lot more Paw Patrol over the last two weeks for us. Some feel daunted by the constant bombardment of ‘look at this scale model of an Aston Martin DB7 we have crafted from toilet roll inserts, masking tape and pouch lids – and yes, those are artfully fashioned alloy wheels moulded from tinfoil.’ But behind every picture is the reality. The shiny outcomes don’t always portray the two meltdowns, three snack breaks and the absolute carnage created in the process. Nor does it show the seven gins it drove mummy to the second little precious was in bed – or before then if a particularly trying day. A pinch of salt and a lot of mess is essential.
With constant energy and creativity flowing through hashtags such as #thelockdownlist #inspirationforisolation and #playathometoday, I’ve only had to scroll my feed to come up with fun to punctuate our day (between snacks and TV sessions). There’s even been the added element of challenge, with a play-focused bingo-board no less. I’m three down already with bog rolls, pouch lids and eggs ticked off. Anyone got any ideas of how to involve the sun, mirrors, chicks and nests in play then drop me a DM! Not that I’m competitive… much!
How would these craft sessions be possible without the essentials: masking tape, string, rolls of paper, chalks, chalk pens… I can’t go out? I can’t nip to Hobbycraft? There’s no tat buying sessions in Poundstretcher for the foreseeable future. Ah, but who needs that when you have the world’s greatest superstore at the push of the button. I feel I’ve grown a stronger relationship (albeit from opposite ends of my driveway) with the Amazon delivery guy, than I have with people I’ve known for years. His daily doorstep drops have kept me in crafting and minimised Harry boredom tantrums. If I were to have another child (and there’s no fear of a Coronavirus baby boom addition here) I’d name it Amazon in his honour. It’s different! It’s unusual! Bets on it being the most popular name of 2021, closely followed by Ocado. Asda for a girl? Gousto for a boy?
Can you imagine how life would’ve been if this virulent virus had attacked us pre-online ordering? Frankly, it scares me to imagine. The only thing relieving my guilt about the amount of cardboard turning up on our doorstep for me, is the amount of cardboard turning up on our doorstep for Hubby.
Life before SMART phones (BSP). I feel a collective shudder. When I went cold turkey during my digital detox, I lost count of the amount of times I reached for my phone for the answer to pretty much everything. What time does the coffee shop open; what’s the weather tomorrow; how long will it take me to get to X; what is the name of the movie with Y in? It was only sixteen years ago I lived in Australia and despite my palm-sized blue Nokia, I would traipse to the phone box with my international calling card to phone home to Mum and Dad. It really was the other side of the world.
Now – living in the limitations of lockdown, Devon may as well be Denmark for distance does not matter. Anything further than the end of my driveway and BSP – we’d have been incommunicado. Thankfully we are living in an After Apple (AA) world so keeping in contact with Lucy in Hong Kong (love you Lu) has been as simple as speaking with Emma in NW10 (your memes give me life Aunty Em)! Being a social beast, I would not have got through the last nineteen days without the opportunity to speak with and see family and friends. The whole FaceTime phenomena has been somewhat perplexing to Harry as he cannot grasp why he can’t have a go on the tractor his bestie is sitting on, even when he says please. But it is a highlight when he gets to talk to Granny Mo – no so much for me as when he says ‘I hold it,’ it means I have to wrestle him to the ground to retrieve my lifeline before he drops it.
Yes I may have slunk back to using in a Class A fashion but I thank my lucky stars I have for it has introduced me to the most fabulous group of ladies. In life it’s rare to come across a whole group of people you click with instantly but I have been lucky enough to have been counselled, encouraged, entertained and empathised with throughout isolation. To the point where I’ve really not felt that isolated at all. It’s like those first flushes of a new relationship – yes, it has been born from my addiction – but, I have revelled in my daily, nay hourly chats with my ‘Cake Ladies.’ From all corners of the country, all different backgrounds, we have found a few essentials in common: children, being a mum, having a wicked sense of humour and having no fear to drop the F-Bomb or share TMI! Ladies – I thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping me sane, for inspiring me, for understanding me, for challenging my pelvic floor with proper side-splitting laughs and for being the best group of women I could ever have been welcomed in to an engagement chat with. You are instagram for me!
So yes, I will probably need digital-methadone to wean me off my phone-dependency once lockdown is lifted but if ever there was a time to be reliant on a few positive hits of dopamine, a cheeky circuit of social media sites and endless scrolling, then I feel now is as good a time as any. So if anyone asks – I am currently in a very deep and meaningful relationship, with my iPhone.
What positives have you found from having you SMART phone in these strange times? Have you ever tried a successful digital detox? Do you have any phone usage rules in your house?