Do We Control Our Phones or Do They Control Us?

Let’s take back control, neutralize the bad our phones can do, and then use our device for good.

Have you been at coffee with someone when they stop mid-sentence because their phone lights up, then their face goes blank and they’re pulled into their screen like a tractor beam? Yeah, it kinda hurts.

But I understand. Sometimes I get one of those texts. And it’s like those little red bubbles with numbers are always just begging me to pop them. And the right notification can divert just about any bit of work I should be doing. My phone is the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last before sleep. I think I have a problem. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

CNN cites that teens and tweens spend nine hours per day on media. I heard a radio story about how a professor offered students money to give up their phones for a week, but no one would give theirs up until the price was high enough to go buy another phone. A friend of mine recently downgraded to a dumb phone because he saw how his smart one was ruling his life.

It makes sense that phones are so addictive. This article in The Atlantic reveals how apps are designed to draw us in and keep us. The designers have done the research and have optimized it. The industry gets richer from our addiction.

Our phones hold huge sway in our lives.

The Danger of Phone Addiction

Dependence on one’s phone has consequences. First, it’s physically dangerous. A few years ago the National Safety Council’s findings said 26 percent of car crashes were caused by phones. Research at Carnegie Mellon University found that just listening to someone talk on a phone can reduce the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

Second, our conversations and closest relationships suffer. Again, research shows even having a phone on a table nearby during a conversation diminishes trust and empathy, and lowers the quality of the relationship.

Third, our own health is at risk. Our sleep is affected. CNN cites a study that shows screen time before bed results in both taking longer to fall asleep and worse sleep quality. The technology website MakeUseOf.com quotes Dr. Russel Johnson at Michigan State University as saying, “Smartphones are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep.” In the same article, Dr. Kenneth Hansraj says “text neck” is a degenerative condition that comes from looking down at our phones too much, putting undue stress on neck and shoulders.

Our emotional health is impacted as well. Kent State University researchers found that “…high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPA, higher anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life (happiness) relative to their peers who used the cell phone less often.”

But just because the smartphone force is powerful and can be used for bad, doesn’t mean it can’t be used for good. Denzel Washington summarized it well when on a BBC interview he asked, “Are you using your device, or is it using you?”

Let’s take back control, neutralize the bad our phones can do, and then use our device for good.

How to Neutralize the Bad

  • Put distance between you and the phone. I have a friend who will purposely leave her phone at home when she goes for a walk or to the grocery store. I’ve talked to people who leave their phones in another room while they sleep.
  • During face-to-face conversations, keep the phone in your pocket and only when you get, say, the third buzz consider checking it briefly to see if something is urgent.
  • Never text while driving. If possible, try not to talk on the phone, either. If you have to text, and in those states it’s still legal, wait for a stoplight. Better yet, wait until you reach your destination.
  • Turn off unnecessary notifications. I’m really hesitant when a new app asks if it can send me push notifications. Do I want to let you have the power to butt into all my conversations and interrupt my work, little app?
  • Learn to recognize when you’re looking for something that won’t be satisfied by the scrolling, hearting, and red bubble popping. Address the real desire.

How to Use Your Phone for Good     

  • Listen to audiobooks/sermons/podcasts in the car. Might as well get smarter while we’re in traffic! 
  • Text or call friends with encouragements to let them know that you’re thinking of them or praying for them. Then actually think of and pray for them. 
  • Type in significant details you learn about people in your contacts app after you talk with them. The names of their children, where they went to college, or their biggest concern you want to remember to pray for and ask about next time.
  • Spend five minutes looking at the invites on a Facebook event before you attend, so you can get a refresh on everyone’s names.
  • If red bubble popping is something you’re not quite ready to leave behind, I use an app in which I schedule the things I want to do and how many times a week I want to do them. Everything from exercise, to calling my brothers, to reading my Bible, I get to choose when it will tell me to get them done. When I complete them, I swipe them right off the screen, and it feels so good when I do. It’s called Productive habits & daily goals tracker.
  • Put in ear phones and listen to the Bible while you exercise. If you haven’t downloaded the YouVersion Bible app, you’re missing out. It can read the Bible to you.

Phones have a huge sway on us. But we don’t have to let using them become bad for us or those around us. Let’s use our phones for good. What other ideas do you have for maximizing the use of your phone and minimizing its control over you? 

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