It arrived last week.
I opened the white box to reveal a sleek new iPhone, lying there before its new owner with a history yet unwritten. Within a few moments, the phone was programmed, and I set up my email and chose my favorite ringtone. I snapped a sturdy case onto it for safekeeping. I slipped it in my purse.
Welcome to my life, iPhone.
But I was a slightly different person than the distracted young woman who lost her iPhone three weeks before. Getting my iPhone stolen from under my nose both dismayed and provoked me. In the ensuing three weeks, I thought a lot about my phone use and tried to change a few habits.
I’ve slowly written this post over the past week, wanting to be honest as well as not too optimistic. I’ve tried to be vulnerable and thoughtful about all of it, and I’d love to know your thoughts. Here are a few things I realized while I had no iPhone, and therefore a few things I’d like to change:
1. I don’t need to carry my phone around the house.
Before I lost it, I would generally carry my iPhone from room to room with me, usually in my back pocket. In theory, this was so I could grab it if someone called or texted me. But my life in Sicily is not full of calls or texts. My friends and I just use email unless it’s urgent. Pretty much the only person who calls me is Elliott, and he rarely texts because he doesn’t have a smartphone. Because we live overseas, I can’t call or text my parents or siblings, so that cuts out a lot of fun everyday communication that I am really looking forward to when we move back to the States!
In summary, I didn’t carry my phone around in case someone called. I carried it around to a) take pictures and b) check various social media outlets.
After I lost my phone, I borrowed my friend’s very simple flip phone. Because there was nothing to do on it, I started to leave it in my purse all afternoon, or on my bedside table all morning. When someone (Elliott) called me, I could usually hear it and go retrieve it. (Usually. There were some missed calls.)
In the meantime, I felt surprisingly free. “Where’s my phone? In my room. I haven’t heard it, so no one’s called. Maybe I’ll check it in awhile.” I lost the itch to have it in the same room with me at all times.
When my new phone arrived, I had already diagnosed this change and wanted to keep it this way. So far, I’ve been successful. Case in point: while writing this, I realized that my phone was still in the backpack from our picnic hike today, meaning I haven’t looked at it in eight hours. That would never have happened before.
However, Elliott read over my shoulder when I was writing this and said, “But when I call you, I want you to answer. It’s good that you aren’t as attached! But we’re paying for a phone so that when people call you, you hear it and pick it up.” And he’s right.
So maybe the phone still does need to travel with me, or maybe I just need to live with a louder ringtone instead of the vibrate setting. I’m still figuring this one out.
2. Putting my baby to bed is not a time to look at my phone.
Gil currently nurses four times a day, always before he goes to sleep. Before I lost my phone, I would often bring it with me to read in the dark when no one could “see” me. But Gil often did turn around to see where the light was coming from, which then turned into a game of me hiding the phone every time he turned his head. In the end, I often felt more frustrated than relaxed. “Just let me finish writing this comment, Gil!”
After I lost my phone, I didn’t have anything to do while nursing Gil except… sit there. So I closed my eyes. I rocked quietly in the rocking chair. I let my mind wander. I rested.
By the time my new phone arrived, I had really learned to value those few minutes with Gil. So I decided not to even bring my phone into the room with me while putting Gil to bed. Now those minutes are quiet, peaceful times for both of us. Our breathing slows, our heart rates decrease, our minds rest. These minutes are also preparatory for both of us: Gil prepares to sleep and I prepare for everythingIneedtododuringnaptime. It’s a time to snuggle together. It’s a sweet time, a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of our lives.
So this change may not last long (because Gil is 14 months and I’ll be weaning him soon), but this is at least one change I’m making: no phone while putting my baby to sleep.
3. Instagram takes a lot more than it gives (at least for me).
I love the glimpses into people’s lives, the ordinary moments and life-defining shots all shared in a simple forum. I’ve reconnected with friends and even made some new ones thanks to Instagram.
But wow. I spent a lot of time on there. Over time, I watched myself begin to spend 10 minutes editing each picture, and then fret over how many likes it might garner. I started to follow people I didn’t know, including a lot of popular bloggers with pretty photos. The more people I followed, the more updates I had, so the more often I checked Instagram. Multiple times a day. Or every hour. Or sometimes – especially right after I’d uploaded a photo – multiple times an hour.
After I lost my iPhone, I missed the updates from my friends, and I would Google various feeds to check in on their photos. But that started to happen less and less. At the same time, I stopped worrying about taking the perfect photo, or thinking about other Insta celebs perfect photos (and food and houses and lives), or getting that nagging itch to check my feed again. These changes gave me more peace and more time.
So I don’t know. Clearly Instagram had a strong hold on me, and perhaps my story is unique. One blogger I know said that Facebook was always getting her down (so she got off Facebook), but Instagram always built her up. Maybe that’s true for a lot of people, but for me Instagram offers more comparisons and time drains instead of encouragement.
After I got my new phone, I tried to establish new habits. Now I only check Instagram about three times a day instead of 10 or 30 times. I stopped following the blogger celebrities that were filling up my feed. (This also means fewer updates in my feed, and fewer updates means I don’t feel the need to check for updates as often.) I’m also trying to never check Instagram around my kids. We’ll see if these changes last, hah! Wish me luck!
4. Taking care of your email in blocks of time saves you time.
With no smartphone, I used my laptop to check my email. And my laptop — unlike my phone — couldn’t travel all around the house with me. Thus, instead of checking my phone every hour (or multiple times an hour), I could only check my laptop when I had a few free minutes in my room by myself: before the kids were up in the morning, during nap time, and in the evening after they’re in bed.
As my time on my email became more limited, I found that I could be more productive when I focused on one thing – “now I have a quiet hour, and I am going to respond to as many emails as I can.” This is so much more productive than trying to email a friend in the corner of the kitchen in the few seconds before Lena came back to find me!
Responding to email only at certain times of day is a time-management tip I’ve heard about, but I’m still figuring it out. Is it realistic to say I am only going to respond to my email at 7am, 2pm, and 8pm? Probably not. But I have found that focusing on my email responses in blocks of time instead of scattered minutes has made me calmer throughout the day. I’m still thinking about this one. I’d love to hear if you have made this work for you.
5. I don’t need to photograph or video every hour of my children’s lives.
Like I mentioned before, I wept when my phone was stolen because there were several months of photos and videos inside that phone. I felt like I lost part of my children’s childhoods. There were iconic moments and memories that will fade away now.
For the first week after I lost my phone, I would mentally reach for it all. the. time. Surprisingly, that was not because I wanted to check my email or look things up on Google. I wanted it so I could take a picture. I saw Gil’s conundrum, Lena’s silly dance, or a beautiful corner of our Italian neighborhood, and my knee-jerk reaction was to reach for my phone and capture the moment.
But after a week or so, the urge faded. I picked up my DSLR a little more and played around with some manual settings. Mostly I just got used to enjoying the moments instead of freeze-framing them.
After I got my new phone, I started using the camera again slowly. I’ve been trying to be more judicious about the photos I take. To delete extra photos as I go. To think more about what I’m trying to capture. To not take a photo and instead just to enjoy the moment. To look at my children and laugh with them and enjoy that moment with my own two eyes and not necessarily from behind an iPhone.
The result, I think, will be fewer photos and probably just as good photos. Maybe better photos, if I’m being more thoughtful. The result might also be children who don’t feel like every moment of their lives is being filmed and recorded.
And these are all good things, I think.
What are your thoughts about all this? If you have a smartphone, do you try to regulate your usage? If you have kids, how do you use your phone around them?
I feel like I’m beginning to set battle lines for a personal war I’ll be fighting all my life. What are your strategies so you use your phone efficiently… and not the other way around?