Separation Anxiety…from a Cell Phone??

We just returned from an amazing two-week trip to Canada (and New England). We camped near Niagara Falls for 4 nights and then road-tripped to NYC to catch a 7-day cruise to Boston, Portland, Halifax, and Saint John. If our trip to Hawaii a few years ago was described as 12 Days of Sandwiches, this one could probably be called, The Oatmeal Chronicles. It wasn’t exactly our intention to have oatmeal for breakfast everyday but it somehow worked out that way. What can I say? It’s heart healthy and our hearts needed a little TLC…as did our minds.

Our phones worked great on the ship…as a camera!

Before leaving for our trip, I was worried how my family would fare without us here. In the past, I’ve always been just a phone call away no matter where we were. Need to vent while I’m walking the beach in Florida? Sure, I’ll answer the phone. Need me to Google something for you while I’m sitting down to dinner? Okay, I can do that too. Yes, I’m a little lax in the boundary department when it comes to my family. I’m working on it and this trip helped a lot. Our cell phones DID NOT work in Canada or on the ship and wi-fi calling had to be scheduled, since the internet service at our campground was “limited” and we did not purchase an internet plan for the ship.

At first, I admit…I had a bit of separation anxiety. It’s one thing to feel freed from incoming calls but quite another to realize that you also cannot call out, check email, or scroll through Facebook to see how everyone is doing. When you’re used to doing something several dozen times a day, to suddenly not be able to do it is a bit of a shock to the system. It also made me realize just how often I was wasting valuable time (and mental energy) doing something that wasn’t always in my best interest.

Checking on the family during a moment of cell service on the NY side of Niagara Falls.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media as a way to connect with friends and family across the miles. I enjoy following others who subscribe to the same beliefs and interests as we do. And yes, I sometimes even get my news from Facebook. But being out of the loop, I realized one thing: I have more time to read real books and have real conversations with real people when my phone stays in my pocket. It was kind of refreshing, yet at the same time I felt kind of ridiculous that I’d let an electronic device consume such a huge chunk of my day in the first place.

Once upon a time, I set a limit on my screen time. I checked Facebook 1-2 times a day, made posts when there was something in my life I wanted to remember, and read up on my favorite blogs a few times a week. Sitting on the ship, staring out at the ocean, during our “Fun Day at Sea”, I picked up my phone no less than 10 times in one hour. Since there was nothing to look at I became keenly aware of the behavior pattern. Pick up phone, unlock it, open an app that doesn’t work, close it, set down the phone, repeat. My self-imposed limits had flown out the window somewhere along the way and I suddenly concluded – OMG, I’m a phone junkie!

On Saturday when we got back to NYC and phone service, I made a few posts to Facebook, called my Mom to let her know we were safe, and set the phone in the console of our car. It stayed there for the better part of our 16-hour drive home. To fill the time, Angie and I talked, we sang 80s songs, we ate road trip snacks, and we took turns driving or napping. On Sunday, I skipped checking Facebook. On Monday, I did the same. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. This morning, I started scrolling through new posts and a strange thing happened. It only took me a few minutes to catch up with my friends and after that I quickly grew bored with the ads and self-promoting content that filled my feed.

I suppose, in a year of seeking greater happiness, this episode might serve as a reminder that happiness does not come from a blinking battery powered box. That’s not to say that the blinking battery powered box doesn’t have a place in a happy life. It does…it’s just a relatively small one. Technology can and does make the world a smaller, more accessible place but it can also cause a certain degree of mental clutter (and digital clutter). Taking a step back from technology really puts that into perspective.

I will probably always use Facebook. It’s a convenient index of the places we go and things we do. It’s also my only connection to some of my friends and relatives. But Facebook is also a 24-hour all access news channel where the stories are all about the people you know and things you enjoy. Sometimes that’s overwhelming by itself. Just as I would never sit in front of CNN or Fox News all day or repeatedly check these channels on my TV to see what’s going on, I have to think of Facebook in the same vein. There’s nothing so important in someone else’s Facebook life that it should take precedence over one’s own real life.

Is there a happy medium with social media? Can you create a newsfeed that brings in only what you really want to see, without the cute (but time-sucking) pet videos, the news you really can’t use, or the ads selected just for you? I don’t know. Probably not. I think the key, like in most areas of life, is just to govern yourself. Only you know how much is too much when it comes to social media consumption. For me, I’m thinking 10-15 minutes a day on Facebook is probably plenty.

Do you spend too much time on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media sites or perhaps, games or other apps? How do you limit yourself? Or do you have no limits? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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