One of the biggest complaints I hear about millennials and younger generations will surprise exactly no one: young people are on their phones too much. I wonder, though, if anyone would be surprised to hear this: we don’t actually disagree.
Just the other day, a friend of mine in her twenties described her guilt over taking a video of her daughter in the presence of older people. “I’m sure they were thinking, ‘put the phone away,’ and I thought ‘maybe I should,’” she said, before going on to describe the moment she was so glad she captured. This illustrates the very common angst many of us feel over our phones, as well as the complexity of the problem. We know we’re on them too much, but they’re also very useful tools.
Older folks might be surprised to learn that cutting back on phone use is a normal topic of conversation among us. No one flinches at someone announcing they’re taking a break from social media or somehow regulating their time spent on their phones. I myself have been experimenting with this quite a bit over the last few years.
A while back I read a book called Digital Minimalism (some of us do still read books). The author proposes a 30-day break from non-essential technology, during which you use the reclaimed time to consider your life and what you actually want to be doing. The book’s framework gave me the courage to take a break from my phone, and it was great. I had the mental space to clarify priorities and put some time toward things I’d been wanting to do.
Another hiatus happened again recently, after I came back from a retreat where we had very little cell phone service. It was so peaceful there without the constant input, and time felt so expansive. I realized I wanted another break — a longer one this time — which I’m on as we speak. It’s been amazing: I’m getting more writing done (hence, this column), I’m completing little projects that have been lingering around the house, I’m more present for my young kids, I feel less frantic and anxious. The positives are very real.
But at the same time, reeling in my phone use feels strange. And hard. I miss the learning and interesting information from the podcasts and articles I typically consume. I worry that because I’m not texting or using communication apps as much my friendships will suffer. I feel out of the loop because I’m barely on social media (we have a word for that: FOMO — fear of missing out).
The bottom line? It’s complicated, and we’re trying. We use our smartphones for so many aspects of our lives, so it’s tricky to sort out. It doesn’t help that the people who make social media design it to be addictive.
I’ve heard older people describe settings where they’ve noticed everyone is on their phones: restaurants, lines at the store, airplanes when they land. No one is talking anymore, they say, everyone’s just glued to their screens. Yep. We know. Trust me, no one thinks this is a good thing. It’s just that the older you are, the more you remember what life was like before these pocket computers took over all our lives.
I lived many years without a smartphone — I think I got my first one after college — but now it’s hard for me to imagine a world without them. Sorting all this out will be increasingly complicated for younger generations. I don’t envy them.
Smartphones are a big cultural shift. No matter our age, we’re all doing the best we can to use them to make our lives better, not worse. I think it’s best to give lots and lots of grace.
Amber Joy Adrian is a Mitchell resident and Ethan native. Send her a question, note, or observation by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column will appear every other week in The Daily Republic.