Well, maybe addicted is a strong word. Or is it? (If you're already bored after reading the last two sentences, skip down to the subtitle "15 Signs That You Might Be Addicted To Your Phone." I know most people won't read this entire article).
Last week, I took my phone to Apple to have the battery replaced. For about 5 hours, I was without my phone. It was nice, and freeing, but there was a part of me wondering all that I might be missing out on, the text conversations that I was unable to contribute to, the emails and notifications that were left unread and forgotten. While I felt freed, I also felt anxious. However, what was most alarming to me was what the Apple Representative asked me as I handed her my phone:
Apple Rep: "Are you okay leaving your phone here for about three hours?"
Me: "Yes, of course. It should be nice to be without a phone for a while." (this may have been me trying to convince myself that not having a phone would be easy...)
Apple Rep: "Oh, good. You couldn't imagine how many people come in here and have to leave their phone for only a couple hours and lose their minds. They ask me things like: 'Is there a loaner phone I can have for the afternoon?' In today's world, people simply cannot function without their phone."
If you're like me, you take your phone out and scroll during every remotely uncomfortable social situation (sitting with co-workers you're not close to before a staff meeting, waiting in the two-minute lull period before class begins at school, sitting on public transit by the person next to you that you don't know, or simply checking your phone every few minutes so as to "not miss out" on all that's happening in the world around you). Perhaps you're just as the Apple Representative described, and couldn't imagine going a few hours without your trusted smartphone.
Are you addicted to your phone?
Let me start by saying there are many good and even righteous ways to use a phone. For example, there are apps that allow us to read the Bible; texting is often convenient and easier than calling someone, and calling someone allows us to connect with people near and far as though they were right next to us. FaceTime and Skype allow parents and grandparents to connect with children and grandchildren, whether in another city or another country, and create the possibility of friends staying close with each other through all walks of life. I could go on about all of the reasons why phones are useful, helpful, and even a tool of righteousness. But, like many things, when something good becomes something that controls our thoughts, compulsions, and behaviors, the thing that might have otherwise been good has become unhealthy, and possibly an addiction.
Habit or Addiction?*
Your phone usage may be such an habitual part of your every day life that perhaps now you aren't even aware of your tendencies to take your phone out of your pocket every few minutes, or to walk from place to place merely holding it in your hand. Habitual behaviors are patterns that are regularly followed, eventually to the point of subconscious behavior that one is nearly entirely unaware of. Habits can be good, and habits can be bad.
But one important distinction to make is that a habit is not necessarily an addiction, but habits are generally the vital organs that create an addiction. For someone who is addicted to alcohol or other substance abuse, the cessation of these substances may cause a severe stress or overwhelming sense of hopelessness, with potentially physical downfalls as well (withdrawal). 1 While creating and breaking habits can be done by repetition and sometimes sheer will-power, breaking an addiction is much different. The behavior of using your phone can be good, but when using your phone becomes a suppressant for emotions, anxiety, trauma, or social stress-- or to avoid reality-- it can quickly become an addiction. 1
I won't tell you that you are addicted to your phone, but I would ask that you follow along this short series to redefine the way you use your phone in your daily lives. Perhaps you are controlled by the use of your phone, and maybe you feel a sense of intense anxiety by the thought of going a whole hour without checking your phone, not to mention a day or a week.
15 Signs That You Might Be Addicted To Your Phone
These are some of the questions I asked myself that helped me to determine my addiction (revised from psychguides.com). Ask yourself these questions and decide for yourself whether or not you might be addicted to your phone.
1. Do you find that you are constantly aware of your cell-phone, whether it's in your pocket, on the table in front of you, or in your hand as you walk down the sidewalk?
2. When you first wake up in the morning, do you immediately look at your cell-phone to check for new notifications, or open Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Email, iMessage, Tinder, Youtube, or some other app? Do you check your phone before acknowledging your spouse beside you?
3. Before you fall asleep at night, have you ever "accidentally" spent several minutes, or even a full hour, mindlessly scrolling through your social feed?
4. After laying your phone down for bed, have you ever restlessly picked your phone back up to see if you have any more notifications than ten-minutes prior when you decided you would go to sleep?
5. Do you find yourself texting or scrolling through social media while you are spending time with friends or family (at dinner, in the living room, at a restaurant, during a movie, etc.)?
6. Do you text or use your phone in any way while you are driving a motor vehicle, or doing some other task that requires your full attention?
7. Do you find yourself staring down at your cell-phone screen while your children are in the same room as you and asking for your attention?
8. When you eat meals, is your cell-phone on the table in front of you (whether face up or face down; this is a sign to others that your phone is as important or more important than them)?
9. Before a work meeting or school class begins, do you take your phone out and scroll or text instead of engaging in human interaction?
10. Are you capable of leaving the house for a full day and intentionally leaving your phone behind?
11. Do you find that you become frustrated, irritated, anxious, or stressed when your phone runs out service, or runs out of batteries?
12. Do you have an intense urge to regularly check your phone for updates or notifications?
13. If you see that you have a new email or text or voicemail or notification, do you feel an unshakable desire to immediately check to see what it is?
14. Is your day less productive because of your phone usage? (Read: Is your phone causing your work or school performance to decrease?)
15. Do you wish, deep down inside, that you could be less "connected" to your phone? 2
In a day and age when anxiety and depression can be coped with by using technology in its various forms, there is no wonder that a person decides to quickly turn to their beloved smartphone whenever they experience any unwanted social anxiety or general uneasiness.
Removing the Addiction
Whether you're a Christian or not, being addicted to anything is a generally undesirable trait. Why would we want to continue living enslaved to an electronic device? The world is an incredible place, filled with opportunity, beauty, and people from all walks of life. If our eyes and our minds are so consumed with the 5.5 inch screen in our hands, then we are living in a fake world and missing everything that exists immediately in front of us. We are deducing our lives to a friend on Facebook instead of a true bond with the people beside us. We might be seeking the temporal fulfillment of a "like" on Instagram instead of attempting to deeply understand others, and helping them to understand us-- the real us, not the selfie-with-perfect-lighting-at-the-beach us.
If you are a Christian, there are many practical, Biblical examples for why it is good to reconsider the way we use our phones. Are any of these traits lacking in your life as a result of your phone?
Be Sober and Awake
"So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober." 1 Thessalonians 5:6
If you've seen the Matrix, then you know that the first movie revolves around Neo's choice to take the red or blue pill. Morpheus presents Neo with the choices:
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
Ultimately, Neo takes the red pill, which empowers him to "leave" the Matrix and experience the "real world." Perhaps you are living in the Matrix of your phone. Challenge me on the reality of this. Next time you are on a bus, a train, or in a public area or common, put your phone in your pocket, and look around. I'm willing to bet that most of the people you see in a crowd of many are looking down at their phones as they walk, sit, talk, etc. And if they aren't looking at their phones, they are holding their phone for quick and compulsive access.
Paul tells the Thessalonian church to be "awake and sober", not like those "who are asleep." When we take the red pill and wake up from the fake reality of our smartphones, we will see more clearly how asleep the world is.
Love God, Love Others
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
Our command as Christians is to love God first and to love people second. If Jesus were sitting in a common area with hundreds of people, what are the chances he would pull out his smartphone and start scrolling through Facebook? While I'm speculating, I think it's highly unlikely to think Jesus would do that, because that would go against his very philosophy of loving people. There are too many hurting and dying people in the world for us to selfishly stare at the screen of our phones while hundreds pass us each day. What would lunch at the office look like if you left your phone at home? Perhaps you'd make a close friend with a co-worker; maybe he would tell you that his family member is sick, and you can love him and bond with him, even offer prays for him and study the Bible with him. What about in between classes at school? Maybe you'd meet your new best friend by striking a conversation about class material, or perhaps you'd notice a girl crying on a bench and have the opportunity to comfort her. The substitution of phone addiction with Godly love is desperately needed in a dark world.
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8
When we are glued to our phones, we are only able to watch the images that shine back at us from a screen. All the while, there are countless people around us that God has called us to minister to, but because we are not different than the world, we blend in with the crowd of consumed phone-users, missing opportunity after opportunity for saving people who are lost.
Be alert and of Sober Mind
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers." 1 Peter 4:7
Have you ever sat down to pray, or perhaps been on walk for praying, and all of a sudden you realize you're no longer praying and are instead scrolling through Facebook or Instagram on your phone? The attention span of a person consumed by their phone is limited, and praying is more difficult. The person who cannot stand to leave their phone for a time may even become anxious during their prayer because they are not feeding their phone addiction during that period of time. This is a clear sign that someone is addicted, and should be a resounding alarm. Prayer is vitally important and necessary for connecting with God and for fueling the Christian life. If your phone is preventing you from having deep and qualitative times in prayer with God, then seek help, and do whatever it takes to remove your phone addiction from your life.
"For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved." 2 Peter 2:19
"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36
In Christ, we are given freedom from that which overcomes us. There is hope, and "hope does not disappoint us" (Romans 5:5). Christ offers us life to the full (John 10:10) and living water that quenches thirst forever (John 4:14). Jesus gives us of himself so that we will not hunger (John 6:35) and promises that all we need will be given to us if we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
If we are willing to remove the unhealthy grasp that our phone has on us with our lives, we will begin to more deeply connect with God and with people, and God will thence be able to use us as his tools of righteousness in a more effective and fulfilling way.
Come back soon for my personal plan to reorient my life around not "needing" my phone so much. This plan will include days that I intentionally leave my phone at home, substitutions for compulsively "scrolling" (like striking a conversation on the train or with a co-worker), ways of intentionally noticing those around me-- and attempting to love them as Christ commands me to-- and exercises to fill my mind with prayer with the time I gain from not being consumed in my phone.
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*I am not a psychologist and do not have professional psychological training.