My first phone was a Nokia 3210 and it came with the game, Snake. I was twelve. The purpose of the game was to collect points by guiding a moving square to pick objects on the screen. As it did so, it left a trail behind, resembling a snake.
People were fascinated with Snake and it absorbed attention throughout the school day. Rows of kids on the bus would be transfixed playing this game. Snake-playing zombies would sit in classrooms at break times, missing out on sport or the outside world to overtake their friends.
Fast forward twenty years, and we’re all still snake-playing zombies. Only we’ve swapped Snake for Candy Crush and Angry Birds, or YouTube and social media and pointless knowledge or endless WhatsApp small talk. Meaningful interactions are lost among the sea of nothingness and it’s costing more than time.
Robin Sharma, in the bestselling book 5AM Club, asserts that, “Your phone is costing your fortune, you know. If you’re playing with it all day long.” Cal Newport is about to release a book called A World Without Email. Thought-leaders across the world are waging war on different focus-stealers, but the sentiment remains uniform: low level distractions are costing deep work and human potential.
What’s the problem?
If you’re writing something important and your phone buzzes nearby, you’re thrown off course. If you’re thinking about how to solve a pressing problem and you take a pause to scroll Instagram, your solution will be average. If after every game your team plays, you’re reading hours of commentary, you’re a pawn in someone else’s career rather than in the driving seat of yours.
Those audacious goals you have will not achieve themselves. Every phone check, every time you succumb to any distraction, it moves the finish line further back. How much further can you feasibly push it?
What if the greatest solution arrives after twenty minutes of thinking, not two? What if you’re never still long enough to have brainwaves? What if your phone is keeping you thinking small and staying in line?
Picture your final moments on earth and how you’ll look back on your life when they arrive. Will you have created a legacy you’re proud of, given all you could, and left the world in a better place than you found it? Or is that what you would have done, had you not seen a great meme? What do you want to be remembered for?
Your smartphone is costing your fortune and you might not have realized because it’s costing everyone else’s too. It becomes normal. We see others doing it, so we follow suit. We don’t want to miss out.
What’s the solution?
The answer lies in treating phone use like addiction. Accepting there’s a problem and taking steps to control it. Cold turkey isn’t the way forward, it’s more complicated than that.
It might be consciously producing rather than consuming. It might be deleting apps or switching your phone off until a certain time. Perhaps write down your schedule rather than using your Google Calendar, or wear a watch. If you know one phone pickup can lead to twenty minutes of scrolling and checking, avoid the pickups all together. Schedule phone checks into your day but limit them, the way someone trying to quit smoking would limit their cigarette consumption over time.
Notice when everyone else is on their phone and let it reaffirm that there’s a problem, not tempt you back. Consider what they are missing that you can now gain. Time, opportunity, ideas, connection, reflection. If there was a fire and they had to put it down to escape, I’m sure they could manage it. But without a strong compulsion to put it down, what’s the reason to? Being completely honest, could you opt out? How long could you go without?
Your motivation to achieve has to be far stronger than the phone addiction you might not know you have. Your desire to make a mark and realize your potential has to overpower the buzz of your group chats. Your commitment to exceeding expectations has to win over your Instagram feed. Does it? Don’t let your smartphone cost your fortune.