Cell phones and the connectivity they provide are an amazingly powerful tool. I did not have a cellphone until 2003-2004, my senior year in high school. Back then, it was a flip phone, which could make calls, play the game Snake, send texts (with four pushes of the number 7 for an ‘S’, and text-only web-browsing which we did not pay for, and thus did not have. Now many, if not most, phones can surf the internet, keep you plugged into social network with push-notifications, watch videos, find a partner or hook up, get directions with GPS guidance, and more besides. You can even play GameBoy games in addition to Flappy Bird, Candy Crush, and Farmville.
Let’s not even touch the phenomenon of the “selfie.”
The tool is a powerful one, no question, and it’s one which has over the past decade taken an increasingly large share of our lives and attention. This trend is one which caused me some concern, and I had the sneaking suspicions that something untoward was afoot.
My suspicion was that I was spending too much time on the device, and that this was pulling me away from my loved ones, my studies, and the people in my life. Additionally, I had the suspicion that my cellphone was hampering my attention, my ability to concentrate, and was keeping me from focusing on the moment; the hic et nunc. At any moment, we can pull out a device if we’re waiting, or sitting, or otherwise unoccupied.
For two weeks, I tracked my cell phone use. I tracked the number of times I called the screen from off to on (Checky), and also the number of minutes spent using the device (QualityTime). I tracked “checks” for longer than I did minutes, and for a portion of the “minutes” period, I was lacking a computer, so would have maybe watched a film or something, which you can see in the latter part of the week. So, I tracked the number of checks, meaning the number of times per day I check the phone. This could be to check the time, email, texts, SnapChat, Facebook, even WordPress for this blog. All of which send me notifications.
Let me share with you the results, which are not flattering, but were eye-opening.
For checks per day, there appears to be a mediating effect of measuring the checks. Each day, at noon, I would get a report from the previous day, which would also show me the current day’s checks. There’s a pretty clear trend downwards. The same trend is not present for minutes, although for the latter part of the week, I did not have access to a computer at all, which I suspect was a contributing factor.
Overall, this exercise pointed out to me with glaring, flashing, neon lights that I am using devices, connectivity, and social media in way which is not conducive to Stoic philosophy.
In the coming weeks and months, I will undertake to re-focus how I’m spending my time, and which technologies I will permit to enter my day. I suspect that there are some pretty significant changes on the horizon for me, and those of philosophical relevance will be discussed here.
I’m wondering if readers have any similar thoughts or realizations. Have any readers here undertaken similar experiments, and what were your thoughts afterwards? If anyone is inspired to undertake a similar experiment, there are a variety of apps available to track these metrics. I simply kept track of the results on a Google Drive spreadsheet, which I also used to produce the graphs. Feel free to share your results in the comments.