Thinking about: Step Away from the SmartPhone


How many times a day do you refresh your email? Or check your Instagram or Facebook feeds? There’s a certain amount of social media I feel like is required by the nature of my work, but I’m certainly guilty of just bouncing around from app to app refreshing in moments of boredom or, worse even, out of habit.

I realized the other day that I was opening Feedly again after having just closed it moments earlier… out of habit!

Or was it out of a fundamental, human need for distraction?

There was a fascinating study discussed on NPR a week or so back on how we can’t even stop the distractions to think! The abstract of the study, which was published in Science, reads:

“In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”

Yes, you read that correctly: they offered participants the option to do nothing or to push a button that delivered a slightly painful, electric shock (and that they were told would do so).

Here’s my follow-up question: Would the results have been different if the population tested weren’t already living with constant stimulation? It’s said that our generation is particularly guilty of being incapable of being alone with our thoughts and we blame it on things like fast-paced television, smartphones and the like.

In other words, would a population not used to hitting refresh all the time, a population without smartphones, also choose to hit “go” on the 9-volt battery? Is this a generational problem, or a human one? Interestingly, 66% of the men chose to shock themselves, while only 25% of the women did.

Do you think you could do it? How long would enjoy being without distraction?

Likewise, do you remember when you’d go on vacation and only check your email once a week (if at all!) at a dedicated WiFi cafe? It was so painful to spend an hour in one of those hot, sweaty little rooms with some great vista just outside. Now we just bring our iPhones along. And again, I’d hate to be without the camera. I’d miss the functionality of searching recommendations on Pinterest or Twitter, the fun of sharing snapshots on Instagram, the ease of reading the newspaper or a book on my phone on the plane rather than toting something bulkier along. But I sort of hate how tethered I am with it.

How do you deal with this? How do you combat what I imagine many of us face: a love/hate relationship with our smartphones?

P.S. More things I’ve been thinking about.

[Photo on my phone is mine, from our trip to Sardinia]

Related posts:

Travel Guides

Browse By Category