Smartphone? I've Gone Back To The Old Skool.
As a DJ, I love playing Old Skool music and while I've been at gigs this year, I've had some strange looks (and a few chuckles) from people, when I've pulled out my £10 Nokia 150 'dumbphone' to use its little torch when I'm setting up my kit. 8 months ago, I had the latest, stylish Samsung smartphone, packed with features and the power to connect me to the world whenever and wherever I desired. So why did I ditch this amazing gadget for a phone that looks like it's straight out of the 90's and is limited to just calls, texts and a torch? I was using it WAY too much and it was stealing my life away.
I was checking that thing any chance I could, whether it was emails, texts or just scrolling through the mindless drivel on social media. It was always close by my side and I was finding myself reaching to use it more and more. I could be sat on my own at home, stuck in a queue somewhere or waiting for someone, I'd just grab my phone and get my fix. But last year, I really started to notice a difference in myself, I felt more distracted, less creative and struggled to stay focused on tasks. This wasn't a healthy habit and I realised it was getting me down, but was the phone really the problem? Did I just need more discipline? Or, was there more to it?
I did a quick Google search on 'smartphone distraction' to see if there was any information on the subject and was surprised to find this is a common problem. There is a lot of scientific evidence to suggest these fashionable phones, that are supposed to improve our lives, aren't really doing us any good at all, especially when it comes to our mental health. One study at the University of Texas showed that smartphones can still sap your attention and productivity when they are faced down, in your pocket or even switched off. It seems just the phone's presence creates a gravitational pull on our attention and affects our ability to focus, as part of the brain is actively working not to use it.
The more articles and blogs I read, the more this word 'Dopamine' kept appearing and things started to get a bit more sinister. Dopamine is a chemical that's associated with the pleasure-seeking and rewards part of the brain. It plays a key role in addictions and the companies behind apps, games and social media platforms, exploit this knowledge to the maximum, describing Dopamine as the 'secret sauce' for their products. These companies hire professional behaviour experts, neuroscientists and psychologists as 'Attention Engineers', leveraging the very same neural pathways used by cocaine and slot machines, to try and keep us addicted to their products and as a result, glued to our screens 24/7. It's all about making as much profit as possible. The most precious resource in today's information economy is human attention and these companies want that attention at all costs, regardless of the impact on our mental well-being.
In recent years, I've become very interested in learning more about how the human mind works. Books on Mindfulness, like the 'Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle, really hit home on how important it is to be in the present moment as much possible and the resulting health benefits, including less stress, higher brain functioning, more connection with life and increased awareness. The more I read on Mindfulness, the more I realised I was spending so much of my life on auto-pilot. I started to get even more annoyed with myself for looking at my phone at times when I should have just been enjoying 'the now'. I tried checking it less, but it didn't work. Just having the phone nearby made me feel that I was just too connected to it and it could pull me out of the present by distracting me at any moment, so I took the decision to have a clean break and just get rid of it.
It's been 8 months since ditching my smartphone and I can honestly say I haven't missed it one bit. It's brought me a great sense of freedom and it's scary when I think of how much I used it when I didn't really need to. I'm so much happier and my overall well-being has improved immensely. I'm more productive and focused on my work, I'm reading and learning more (I've never read so many books in my life!) and at those times I may have pulled out my smartphone just to check it, I can now just relax and enjoy the present, which helps me think of new creative ideas.
I now only use the internet on my laptop, during scheduled parts of the day, so that it doesn’t impact my focus or time. I have also cut down massively on my social media usage, including closing my Facebook profile page and I can't describe how good that felt. The only downside to all this is that when you're looking around and savouring life, you see just how addicted everyone else is to their smartphones! I just hope people can become more aware of this problem in the future and realise how much this could be affecting them mentally and socially.
There’s no doubting smartphones can be useful and the thought of going back to a basic mobile phone for some people may sound crazy. But, if you're being distracted by yours and checking it more and more frequently, especially during precious time with family and friends, it may be worth considering. You don't have to go back to the old skool like me, but you can do your best to bring yourself 'back to the now' as often as you can. And if there weren’t already enough benefits? My Nokia 150's battery lasts forever and it only costs me a fiver in calls and texts every month!