What You’re Hiding from When You Constantly Check Your Phone

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Excerpt from this article:

In my personal experience, mindlessly relying on my phone and computer has been a useful, albeit insidious, way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings. After all, how many of us regularly accept and embrace those moments when we feel weird or bored or lonely? We usually text a friend, refresh our Twitter feed, or check our email — or reach for a snack or a cigarette. In my own life, I noticed this habit when I quit smoking cigarettes last year. Around that time, a yoga teacher advised me to meditate on what I was feeling during the moments when I craved a cigarette. I realized that I wanted a cigarette most intensely when walking from point A to point B and while waiting for other people to arrive — moments when I had nothing to distract me from the discomfort of simply being with myself. I am sure other smokers can relate to this feeling of cigarette-as-avoidance.

Phones and cigarettes are not the only things that help us turn away from the parts of ourselves we don’t like—anxiety, anger, our fears, our unfulfilled desires, and our need to assert boundaries and take care of ourselves. Whether it’s snacking, smoking, or e-mail refreshing, all these avoidance tactics can serve the same purpose. But phones are among the most socially acceptable.

The distraction afforded by constant connection to social media, news, email, and texting may feel comforting in the short term, but in the long term it may sap what poet John Berryman referred to as “inner resources.” In enabling us to avoid ourselves, our phones allow us to look away from anxious feelings instead of trying to resolve them. I’d hazard the guess that when most of us feel that itch to check our email for the umpteenth time while out to dinner — just to make sure we haven’t missed a call — we actually aren’t as concerned with FOMO, or fear of missing out, as we think. Sure, some of us may truly fear the wrath of a demanding boss on the other line, or a friend (or family member) may be in need. But mostly, we’re trapped in that technology-stress paradox: we share the desire for greater freedom from our devices, and yet that very freedom itself causes anxiety. It makes us ask ourselves what life would feel like if we were really forced to sit with ourselves.

 

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