My iPhone Addiction
How I learned to gain control over my incessant need to be constantly connected.
I’m a junkie. I am addicted to my iPhone.
I’m a regular guy. I live in Jerusalem and learn Torah every day. I exercise. I work a responsible job. I am good parent and spouse. And yes, I have a smart phone. I’ve heard about all the dire warnings from rabbis about the dangers of smart phones; their points are valid. But I needed my iPhone 24/6 for work and I had no choice.
Or so I thought until this summer.
Our family hosted Yael, a teenage girl who came to stay with us for a month after she finished up a year in seminary. Yael is a close family friend and we enjoy her company; she is great with the kids and helps out around the house. But after a week, I noticed that she had not left the house once. In fact, she barely left the living room. She just sat there on the couch, while an entire world of chaos (five Israeli kids in apartment with neighborhood kids regularly stampeding through) exploded around her on a daily basis.
Not a glance, not a stare. She was in her own world, oblivious to her surroundings, consumed by whatsapp, snapchat, instagram, email, news updates and even updates about when there would be more updates. Her thumbs tap danced on the screen at the speed of a Riverdance performer trying to keep up with the next beat – I mean beep. It was truly a spectacle to behold.
“Why are you sitting on the couch all day?” I asked her.
"Because I am attached," Yael replied. She meant it literally. Her wireless phone was plugged into the wall. She did not leave the couch at the risk of running out of battery.
One day catastrophe struck – her iPhone broke. Yael was helping out in the kitchen, serving two kids macaroni, pouring drinks and peeling a banana for the baby all with one hand. In her other hand was the iPhone, where she was performing a one-legged show with her free thumb. As she reached for the send button, the phone slipped out of her hand and crashed onto the floor shattering the display and the phone wouldn’t turn on.
“What am I going to do?” she said.
“Can you grab the baby? He’s dangling from the highchair,” I said.
She froze. She couldn’t focus on anything but the fate of her 36 whatsapp groups, the expected evening instagrams, and the conclusion of the selfie photo series her friends were snapchatting down the aisle at Shop Rite.
“Don’t worry about it, I know a place that can fix it,” I said.
At the electronics repair shop the owner said to the visibly distraught Yael, “Come back tomorrow, I’ll see if maybe I can fix it.”
"Maybe? Did he say maybe?" I heard Yael say to herself.
By the time we got home, her facial expression went from worry to panic. She sat on the couch, almost crouched in a fetal position. She didn’t say a word, other than to ask if the guy from the electronics store called. The pandemonium of the lively kids didn’t faze her at all. She was catatonic and going through withdrawal.
At first I was nervous, then scared and finally disgusted – at myself. Yael was clearly extreme, but was I much better? What would I do if I didn’t have my iPhone for 24 hours? I’d be pretty agitated. Perhaps a client or colleague was trying to get in touch with me. What about the news? The whatsapp group? The latest @dansdeals?
In many ways Yael and I suffered from the same addiction.
So I started thinking about gaining control over my need to be constantly connected to my iPhone.
A few days later, my 12-year-old son asked me for an iPhone. This has come up before and in the past I have just said no. Thank God his classmates do not have smartphones, so the pressure to get one is a lot less. But, this time I pulled him aside and said, “Look at Yael. Is this a life? You go out and play sports, go on fun hikes, and learn a lot of Torah. Do you want to sit on the couch all day? Do you want to be so attached to a phone that you can’t ever let it go?”
As the words were coming out of my mouth (while simultaneously responding to an email), I resolved to gain control and detach myself. I knew it wouldn’t be a complete cutting of the cord, but I needed to free myself for a period of time on a daily basis from the grid. And I did.
I got another phone; a simple one that makes and receives calls, and that’s it. For several hours a day I only carry the simple phone. If anyone needs to call me my regular number rings on the simple phone. When my workday starts, I turn on my iPhone.
It’s not a perfect solution but after doing this for only a number of weeks the change is noticeable and real. I am able to focus more on what I am actually doing like praying, learning, eating and even talking to my wife. I am not constantly distracted by another buzz or ding. I am focused on what I am doing right now. The emails, whatsapps and other updates can wait until I decide that I want to check them.
I am not advocating for a complete disengagement. I still use my iPhone and it provides me with the access I need and want for work, family connections, news and of course Waze. But I am changing my routine, blocking out large chunks of time – I’m at five waking hours a day – where I am in control.
And I like it.