The original iPhone was released twelve years ago. When a new technology is released it takes time before we go from “this is the most amazing thing ever” to “maybe we should think about if this is good for us.” Henry Ford released the Model T in 1908 but drivers licenses weren’t adopted until much later. By 1930, only 24 states required a driver’s license to drive a car. Just 15 mandated a driving exam.

I believe we’re at the beginning of this transition for phones and social media. Facebook’s early adopters, millennials, are running away from facebook. Over 11,000,000 users in the US alone have left. We will continue to see this trend continue across other domains in technology.

In his book “The Coddling of the American Mind” (note: not my favorite book) Jonathan Haidt cites that the more time teens spend on social media, the more depressed they are. Teens who spend more than two hours on social media are especially at risk, and the rates of depression increase with each additional hour spent.

depression rate by social media use

I know, I know, correlation does not equal causation. Children who are spending 5+ hours on social media are probably more likely to not have parents who are investing deeply in their well-being. They probably lack real life social interactions. All that said, there must be some signal here.

Is this true of screen time in general? In short, no. Haidt states on the book’s complementary website:

Studies that merge all screen time together, including those that facilitate social interaction (such as talking with a friend on FaceTime, playing a video game with a friend, or watching TV with a sibling) find only very small and inconsistent correlations with poor mental health.

Johnathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff

You can see their full analysis here.

Lil Nas X of “Old Town Road” fame surprised an elementary school with an impromptu concert earlier this year. Notice how fully engaged the crowd of children is. There is not a phone in sight. These kids are meeting a celebrity who is playing a song they adore and they are fully in the moment. Every single one of them is dancing and screaming the lyrics around with our beloved Lil Nas X.

I notice the same behavior in both my children, who are perfectly happy without phones or technology. Granted, they also don’t know about taxes, politics, or responsibility, but my point is that we can be happy (likely, more so) without these things.

I am not good with my kids when my phone is near. Its gravitational pull is constantly drawing me in. For what? To check notifications I know have little to no value? See an e-mail 30 minutes early? Respond to a text promptly? I don’t want my boys to remember me on my phone when we’re playing together. I want them to view me as fully engaged and present when we get time together.

Stephen Covey would label nearly all notifications as not urgent and not important. Why would we spend a moment of our attention on these things if that is the case? I am as guilty as anyone (though improving!) so I am mostly talking to myself here.

Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work, outlines many strategies for getting the most out of your work day. One major highlight of the book is avoiding distractions at all costs during extended periods of focused work. Save e-mails for later, don’t check slack and, of course, put your phone away. In 2020 the ability to focus on a single problem for a long period of time is a super power.

I am not saying that we should throw our phones away, delete facebook and live as digital nomads. We should, however, consider if these things are truly making our lives better. There’s a very good chance that they are, to a point. Are you really going to review that 20 minute firework video? Is the sound quality on that concert video worth saving and revisiting? Would a couple of pictures have sufficed?

What I’m saying is: put down your phone.

One thought on “Put Down Your Phone

  1. Brian says:

    Just watched the Netflix exclusive “The Social Dilemma” last night and your post was a foretelling of what it covers. I think I mostly agree with your balanced approach, but I’m even more aggressive with things like my notifications (like what’s truly urgent to be interrupted?), deleted social media apps from my phone (lower fidelity browser experience works for me), and I have a smart watch with similarly-conservative notifications to keep me off my phone when I’m with my young kids.

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