Archives For Smartphone

Note: This article ran in the Centre Daily Times on October 26, 2011, the final of a three part series. Part one is here and Part two is here.

It’s been three months since I got rid of my iPhone. Guess what? The ground didn’t crumble beneath my feet, the sky didn’t fall. Actually, life’s been pretty good since I cut the cord.

I still dislike my new phone, but at least I don’t hate it anymore. The phone bill is down, which is good. Plus, I found out I can survive without checking email or Facebook every 10 minutes. Who would have thought?

But the greatest change is this: I’m becoming the dad I want to be. And maybe in the future, when my kids talk about my life, they won’t mention my affinity for my phone. Instead they’ll mention my affinity for them.

Maybe they’ll say we hunted water dragons in the pool, turned into screaming eels and tried to touch dancing dolphins. Maybe they’ll say we hopped the transport to the hidden planet and were launched into the sky.

Maybe they’ll laugh at the fun we had.

And if they do, it’ll be because I was present with them, untangled from that which once tangled me.

There’s a verse in the Bible that means a lot to me. It says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12.1).

Now that I’m free from my smartphone, I realize how much it consumed me. It kept me from the race of fatherhood by stealing my thoughts and taking my focus. I wasn’t free to run the uphill sprints or the flat distances, not the dirt roads or grass valleys. I was hindered, limping along. I was tangled.

But as this verse says, I threw off the sin that so easily entangled. The great sin of fatherhood is absence, and I discarded that which made me absent: my
smartphone. Together, we were a deadly combination. So I cast off that which bound me, choosing instead the race marked out for me, which is fatherhood.

And now that I have, I’m becoming the dad I want to be.

The kids are noticing. One morning as I wake up, my daughter hands me a card she has made. It has a shirt and tie on the front, the recognition that I have other responsibilities in addition to being a dad. I open it up and there’s a message inside, written in crayon. The words tilt upward and to the right.

“Dad, thank you for getting [sic] a new phone.”

My daughter has shown me her heart. She’s happy, too.

For those in the race of fatherhood, let’s run it well. We only get one race. Let’s remove the sin of absence, choosing to enter in. Let’s cast off that which separates, deciding to move toward. It might not be a smartphone, but it’s something else.

Fatherhood is only granted to some. How are you running your race? How will your kids say you ran?

Note: This article ran in the Centre Daily Times on October 19, 2011, part two of a three part series. It has been modified from its original version. Part one is here and Part three is here.

Costly decisions always seem better in theory. The moment of action proves if you’ve got the grit to follow through. I had decided to get rid of my iPhone because it was affecting my relationship with my kids. But I wasn’t prepared for how it would beg to stay. My body would tingle in its absence.

One day after work, I went to the AT&T store to get a new phone. “Hi,” I said. “I want to downgrade my smartphone. I don’t want email or Internet anymore.”

The clerk looked at me surprised. I imagined she was thinking of how big a moron I am. No one downgrades anymore, everyone upgrades. How many customers come in asking to downgrade? Probably none. But in a friendly, unfazed voice she said, “You want to downgrade? OK, sir, no problem.”

She walked me to a wall of phones, away from the iPhones. I suddenly felt like I’ve left Fifth Avenue for Skid Row. The aura of Apple was gone. The pulsing lights faded. The fireworks ran out. There was no angel choir to greet me. So this is what a downgrade felt like.

I chose a phone that does the things I want it to do: take pictures, play music, send text messages. Oh, and make phone calls. That would be useful in a phone. Then the clerk asked for my iPhone. “Really, you have to take it?” I asked. “I have to import your contacts to the new phone,” she said.

I hand it over so the transfusion can take place. After a few minutes, she handed it back. But it’s not the same phone as before. My precious phone lost its connection to the world; it no longer had a signal. I started to panic.

Anxious thoughts flooded my mind. My heart pounded and my palms got sweaty. I felt like I lost something important.

I looked at my new phone. It looked stupid and already I hated it. I picked it up. What am I supposed to do with this, I said to myself. Call someone? I don’t want to call someone, I want to check email. I want to check Facebook. I want to check my website stats. Dumb phone.

I left the store and drove home. At the stoplight I reached for my phone. Then I remembered I can’t do anything with it, at least not anything I would want to do. I tossed it back on the seat. What if someone has emailed me or someone’s status is so clever I have to top it? The gravity of my actions slammed into me. I’m not connected anymore. However will I cope?

I thought about returning to the store. What will it cost to undo my decision? Should I get a different clerk? How do I get the hoopla back?

But I was hungry for dinner, so I drove home. I walked through the door and my kids hollered and ran over to hug me. Then I remember why I did it: to improve my kid connection, the one that matters.

Note: This article ran in the Centre Daily Times on October 12, 2011. It’s part one of a three part series. Part two is here and Part three is here.

One day I start to think about my smartphone and how attached I am to it. I imagine an umbilical cord connecting me. It delivers nourishment and fun, sweet nectar of life. Then I go outside and notice other people on their mobile devices. No one looks up. They keep typing and scrolling and surfing.

This gets me wondering. Is there such a thing as smartphone addiction? And if there is, how is it affecting our lives and families?

I begin to list the possible signs of smartphone addiction. Maybe I can come up with five. But you know what? Soon I have 15 signs, and I realize this was too easy. Too easy because I described myself.

The list is a mirror and I see my addiction in plain view.

But what’s the big deal? So I use my iPhone a lot. I start to convince myself the smartphone is necessary because I need to be productive at work. I need to be instantly accessible. I need to be plugged in at all times. Besides, everybody has one.

I begin to crumple the silly little list when No. 6 catches my attention: Your kids see you more with your phone than without it.

Oh, meddling No. 6. Suddenly the faces of my children stream to my mind. When they’re older, what will they say about me? “Dad really knew how to use his phone,” my son might say. “Dad made the most of his monthly data plan,” my daughter might say. But I don’t want them to say any of these things about me, because if they do, that means my smartphone usage made a bigger impression on them than other things. I will have failed as a father.

Instead I want them to name the adventures we had, the dragons we slew and the places we visited, all in our suburban backyard. I want them to sing the songs we sang and tell the stories we told. But most of all, I want them to say I was with them.

Absence is the great sin of fatherhood, the temptation of men with children. We don’t set out to ignore our kids, but along the way, the path diverges and we separate. This happens whether we live under the same roof or not.

Smartphones aren’t helping.

I admit that at times, I’ve been absent, my mind and heart on other things. I said I was listening but really wasn’t. I said I was watching but really wasn’t. I didn’t think they noticed me checking email but they did. I didn’t think they saw the blue flash but they did. Now I can hear them saying, “Dad loved his phone, but what about us?”

So I decide to do something drastic because I love my kids. I decide to cut the cord.

robot woman

I’m not the only one to say there are signs you’re addicted to your smartphone.

In an article for the Associated Press, Ellen Gibson writes about the “growing obsession among people who would much rather interact with their smartphones than with other human beings.” Call it smartphone obsession.  It’s destroying human relationships.

Not only does it cause deception (“I’m going to check my email in front of you without you knowing it”), smartphone obsession creates immaturity in face-to-face communication. Instead of pushing through the discomfort of meeting someone new or not knowing anyone at a party, smartphones lure us back to comfort. We don’t have to learn how to talk with people who are different from us because we can pick up our smartphones and feel right at home. Smartphones are short cuts to comfort. But sometimes comfort shortchanges us from growth.

Sometimes the nervous feelings we get around new people or in new environments are good. They help us to reach out and form connections. Remember life before smartphones? If you stumbled upon a stranger or found yourself waiting in line,  you would say hello, meet someone new, make small talk. But not anymore. Now we hover over our smartphones, trying to avoid eye contact, fixed on ourselves. But all along we’re cutting off fellowship with our immediate neighbor.

What does it mean to love our neighbor? Certainly not ignore him or her.

I fear for what smartphones are doing to us as people. We might be more productive, but are we becoming less human?

It is a basic human response to create community, to warm our surroundings, to engage with our neighbors. What happens when we forfeit these activities for solitary movements on dead hardware? Aren’t our affections for something else, then? Not love for our neighbor?

In “Are You Obsessed With Your Smartphone?,” Gibson reveals that 35% of all U.S. adults own a smartphone (count one less person since I got rid of my smartphone). Of this 35%, two-thirds “sleep with their phones right next to their beds.”

Sounds less human to me.

This is my confession: I have sought significance from my email inbox. I have looked to my emails to tell me who I am. In doing so, I have given people power over me that I never should have given. Only God can name me.

A few years ago I’m at a men’s retreat, and not just any men’s retreat. This men’s retreat is ten years from the day that my life fell apart and I crawled into a care facility. It’s ten years from the day that I checked into a hospital and asked for help. At the retreat, I realize the anniversary, and in a hush of heat and wonder, I understand that God is up to something: I will let God have his way.

Throughout the weekend, a theme keeps rising: my search for significance. As I inventory my childhood and my twenties, It turns up at key points. Often I am questing to prove my significance, searching for that thing or word or person that will put the question to rest: “Do I matter?”

But the issue had not been settled. So at the retreat, I weep for that question, and I yell in anger, at the places it has taken me. Oh to prove that I matter.

Then, standing up alongside this plaguing question, comes a voice. It’s small and still, but even as it’s spoken, it causes my chest to rise, my head to clear. The voice says, “I’m giving you a new name. It shall be, ‘You matter to me.’”

In this moment, God has renamed me, and I’m brave enough to believe this pressing glory.

Yes, this is it. The answer to my question, the end of my search. Of course it is so simple. Through church and Sunday School, I had learned I mattered to God:

He made me in His image.
He breathed life into my lungs.
He set out my days before one of them came to pass.
He sent His Son to die for me.
He prepared a place in eternity for me.

But somehow, the education wasn’t enough to settle my search. I needed to know it through and through, the voice of the father to son, Creator to creation—primal, essential, spiritual. It needed to come directly. So on this day, heightened in my awareness, God spoke my name directly. And I was changed.

But quickly the idols formed, like weeds that were not removed. Years passed between my naming and today. I started to look to people for significance, wondered if I mattered to them. Emails became affirmations of my standing. A full inbox said, “You matter,” and an empty one said, “You don’t.” I forgot the name God had given me, exchanging it for earthly names of flesh and feel.

I became aware of what was happening, but explained it away: It’s good to be significant to others. It’s good to be counted upon. I want my work to be valued. I want to matter to others. And it all seemed okay. Who wouldn’t want to matter to their friends? Who wouldn’t want to be significant? But there’s usually truth in our lies. That’s why we fall for them. That’s why I fell for them.

I had raised man’s opinion above God’s. God said I mattered, but the inbox said I didn’t. I believed the inbox instead of God. That’s what brings me to where I am today. Smartphone email addiction is the symptom of a false name.

And so I come to this conclusion:

Being significant to God is necessary;
being significant to others is nice.
Don’t confuse nice with what’s necessary.

stone wall

This is my confession: At times I have paid more attention to my smartphone than to my kids. Up to this point, my kids Asia and Rex have probably seen me more with my iPhone than without it. Now that I’ve realized this, it worries me. What message have I given them?

The other day I tell Asia, who’s eight, that I got a new phone. Then I ask her if she knows why I got a new phone. Her answer breaks my heart: “So you’ll pay attention to us.”

Uhhh. All along I didn’t think they noticed. All along I thought I was getting away with it. Checking email while they were swinging in the backyard. Reading my messages while they rode their bikes. Getting emails while we watched a movie. These were isolated incidents, separate stones, but when you put them together, they built a wall. A wall between my kids and me.

And for what? For spam emails, for quizzes posted on my Facebook page, for a newsletter? These two kids, my Asia and my Rex, are my treasures. They’re the ones I was chosen to parent, chosen to love, chosen to raise. They’re the ones who look to me as father, their only one. I’m the one who models their Heavenly Father, the one they look to when they wonder what God is like. And what am I doing most of the time? Checking email.

Giving my attention to something else, someone else. Truth is, the email is not aways going to be junky. Sometimes it’ll be important, an email from my family, or a friend, from work, or my agent. But the conclusion is still the same—and for what? For what am I giving the attention that my kids deserve? For what am I wasting these precious years when they’re still at home? For what am I sending this dreadful message that they’re not worth my attention?

Junk email or important email, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. My kids are more valuable, infinitely.

I want to get the time back. But I can’t. All I can do is protect the time going forward. And I will, no more walls.

Related blogs:
15 Signs You’re Addicted to Email on Your Smartphone

Confessions of a Smartphone Email Addict

Getting Rid of my iPhone

My Addiction, My Baby Shark

sunrise

This is my confession: I have made checking email the most important part of my day. When I wake up in the morning, either by alarm or by nature, the first thought is, “I have to check my email.” My heart beats faster with delight. There are so many wonderful possibilities. Who emailed? What did they say? Is it good news? I feel like a boy in a toy store.

I grab my phone, leave the room, and find a place to sit. I can’t get there fast enough. My breathing quickens and my fingers tremble. There is only one purpose on my mind. I’ve tried checking my email in bed before, but the light woke my wife up, and she asked what I was doing, and I felt embarrassed and ashamed by my compulsion. So it’s easier to do it in another room.

I feel better about myself that way—unless it’s all junk mail on my smartphone, or nothing significant. Then I feel bad, and sometimes whisper, “you’re worthless” to myself. As in I’m worthless because I haven’t gotten any meaningful email. But I know I’m not worthless, and to prove it, I check my email again. But I haven’t received anything new in the last two minutes. So the cycle continues. What an awful way to start the day.

I believe what we choose to do first in our day reveals what is first in our heart.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes the kids wake up, we have work responsibilities, the dog barfs. But on the other hand, sometimes we do have a choice. In Mark 1.35, Jesus gets up very early in the morning and goes to a solitary place to pray. He has decided that connecting with his Father is most important. He separates himself so he can have time with God. It’s his most important thing.

It’s the same for David. He writes in Psalm 5.3, “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” David’s most important thing is talking with God. Before the day begins, he sets it on a firm foundation. He focuses on God before he focuses on anything else.

What we do first deals not only with chronology, but with importance. In checking my email first, I have made the opinions of others, and the proving of my significance, the most important thing. But I don’t want them to be. I want my most important thing to be connecting with God. I want to hear from Him first, and speak to Him first, before I do anything else. That way He’ll be first in my life.

Related blogs:
15 Signs You’re Addicted to Email on Your Smartphone
Confessions of a Smartphone Email Addict
Getting Rid of my iPhone
My Addiction, My Baby Shark

shark

I had a dream the night after I got rid of my iPhone. In the dream, I’m watching a home movie of myself. In the movie, I’m at the beach, playing in the surf. The tide rolls in, then rolls out, and I chase it. I notice something in the shallow surf, so I pick it up. It’s a baby shark. As I watch the movie, I gasp. Why would I pick up a shark?

But on the beach, I draw baby shark close and hug it. Then I kiss it several times on its mouth. I love baby shark.

From the viewing room, I shake my head in horror. What am I doing? Don’t I know how dangerous it is to play with a shark?

Eventually I place baby shark in the water and it swims away. That’s when I wake up.

Psalm 7.15 says, “He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.”

I never intended my smartphone use to get out of control. In the beginning it was a helpful tool. I could stay on top of emails by having email always with me. I could delete junk mail on my phone so at my computer, I could be ultra productive. But somewhere along the way it went bad.

Baby sharks grow up to be adult sharks, don’t you know.

Somehow the desire for productivity turned into a need for significance. Receiving email started to affect my sense of identity. I would feel better about myself if I got email, and worse about myself if I didn’t. New messages sang loudly to me, “See, you matter.” No new messages tormented me, “You don’t matter.” And so email messages began to shape my self-concept.

They also gave me a false sense of control. There are some dreams, mighty and magnificent ones, on which I’m waiting, and email will announce their progress. I’ll find out over email if I’m closer to attaining them. So as I wait for these hopeful things to happen, I check my email obsessively. It seems the more I check my email for them, the greater the chance they’ll happen. Or at least I’ll get news about them. Some days they seem so out of reach.

And so for me, my sense of identity and calling, and trust and hope, are twisted into my email use. And I have to untwist them, pry them from the shark’s mouth. This is my work for now.

Related blogs:
15 Signs You’re Addicted to Email on Your Smartphone
Confessions of a Smartphone Email Addict
Getting Rid of my iPhone

beer_thumbI go to the AT&T store to get a new phone. I say, “Hi, I want to downgrade my smartphone. I don’t want email or Internet anymore.”

The clerk looks at me a bit surprised but says, “Downgrade, ok, no problem.”

She walks me to a wall of phones, away from the iPhone and iPad section. This section is still shiny like the Apple section, but it feels different. It feels like a downgrade. Things are about to change.

I choose a phone that does the things I want it to do—take pictures, play music, send text messages. Oh, and make phone calls. That would be useful in a phone. The clerk asks for the iPhone. “Really, you have to take it?”

She says, “I have to import your contacts to the new phone.” I hand it over.

After a few minutes, she hands it back. But it’s not the same phone. My dear old phone has lost its connection to the world. It no longer has a signal. I feel the panic inside. Anxious thoughts flood my mind. My heart pounds and sweat forms on my palms. I’m having a physical reaction to this loss. Yes, loss, this is what it feels like. I feel like I’m losing something important.

I look at my new phone. It looks stupid and already I hate it. I pick it up. What am I supposed to do with this? Call people? I don’t want to call people, I want to check my email. Dumb phone.

My reaction to getting rid of my smartphone isn’t unique. It’s right in line with addictive behavior. And I’m not the only one addicted to my smartphone.

According to Forbes.com, a Rutgers University study found that “a third of BlackBerry users show signs of addiction similar to alcoholics.” The study also suggested that smartphones can be so addictive that, “owners may need to be weaned off them with treatment similar to that given to drug users.”

In a 2010 study by Crowd Science, 20% of respondents admitted to being addicted to their smartphones. In another 2010 study by Stanford University, 94% of iPhone users admitted to being addicted to their iPhones. Only 6% said they were not addicted at all.

And when speaking of addiction, it’s instructive to look at behavior. A 2011 global report of mobility trends described smartphone use during “downtime.” Downtime is described as, “personal time or me-time, when you are waiting for something or otherwise not occupied.” The study found that 28% of respondents check their smartphones 5 or more times in one hour, with 7% “obsessively” checking 10 or more times in one hour. The largest age group for the “obsessively checking” category is 22-34 years old, which is my age group. I’m among good company.

I bring home my new phone and flop it on the table. On the way home from the store, I would have normally checked my email at the stop light. Now I have no idea if anyone emailed me between the time I left my office and now. How will I survive? This isn’t going to be easy. I want my iPhone back.

ball and chainIt started out as a joke, the piece called “15 Signs You’re Addicted to Email on Your Smartphone.” But as I thought more about it, I realized it had teeth. Some of these things were true for me—I did check email on my Smartphone an awful lot.

At first I tried to minimize and justify:

I’m a company director, so I’m just being responsible.
I’m an aspiring writer, what if my agent emails me?
I’m in community with people, what if they need me?
Oh come on, it can’t be that bad.

But as I worked on the 15 signs, I had a sinking feeling: I came up with them way too easily. Way too easily because they were all true for me. I didn’t have to research or imagine what Smartphone Email Addiction might look like because I saw it right before me, right inside of me. The 15 signs were my behavior, taken from the pages of my life.

This concept wasn’t new to me. Two years ago I wrote a fictional piece called “Time Traveler” and recently, a blog post called “Missing the Glory.” I have been aware of my tendencies, but now I’m ready to deal with them.

The boy tries to hide, but the man takes ownership. I am a Smartphone Email Addict.

Some of you might laugh, but I’m not trying to be funny. I’m not trying to be dramatic. This is me being honest. One thing I’m called to do in this lifetime is to lay my life out in words so that others might be changed. I agree there might be worse things to be addicted to. But for me, this addiction has damaged my relationship with God and people I care about. Heck, it might even have hurt you.

When I see unread messages on my phone, that’s all I can think about. If you’re right in front of me, I don’t see you or hear you. I just wonder what’s on my phone. When I wake up in the morning, my heart beats faster because I can check my email. When I check and there are no new messages, I check again two minutes later, hoping to correct this terrible wrong. When a new message comes through, I am rewarded for my actions and my behavior is reinforced—see, it pays to check it every two minutes.

But things cannot go on like this. I fear for what it’s doing to my walk with God, how it’s separating me from others, and what it reveals about my own identity. This is my confession: I’m addicted to email on my Smartphone. On my own, I can’t handle it.

So here’s the first thing I’m going to do: I’m getting rid of my iPhone. It’s not as simple as turning off the data plan because data plans are required on iPhones. So I must discard the iPhone altogether, addicted to it as I am.

But changing the behavior isn’t all there is. You must also change the heart, dig into it, and see what’s there. Because if you change the behavior but not the heart, the addiction will take another form. So I’m entering into prayer and introspection. I’ll examine these 15 signs, account for the damage, and ask why, in the pursuit of a changed heart.

I’m excited for what’s over the horizon when I’m not chained to my phone.