A few weeks ago, I suffered a minor trauma. While on a night out, I put down my phone and, when I went to pick it up, it had gone. In the scale of life disasters, it’s a small one; within two days it had been replaced, with all my contacts, photos and apps reinstalled. It was as if it had never gone. Yet, those 48 hours without it gave me more anxiety than any little black box should be able to engender.
The reality is that, like most of us, I’m addicted to my phone. I have it in my hand for most of the day, even when I’m not using it, and I feel a little worried unless I can see it. It’s not surprising I’m so attached to it – my whole life is lived through that phone. When I was young, my parents would make me memorise the landline number so I could call home if I needed to. I knew friends’ numbers because I dialled them so much, in case anything had happened in the half hour since I’d seen them. Now, every bit of contact I have with the world is via my phone and I can barely remember my own number, let alone anyone else’s.
I know how my friendship groups fit together through WhatsApp groups we’ve created. I have friends’ secrets, dreams and bad jokes stored on that phone, and they have mine. My photo album creaks under the memories we’ve made, more than my brain could ever contain. In recent times, I’ve conducted entire love affairs on my phone. I’ve felt a frisson of excitement when it pinged the arrival of a love note, and refreshed it desperately as I’ve waited for one. I’ve developed stories of the life we’d live together on little more than some repartee and the clever use of an emoji. It hasn’t been just a form of communication, it’s been a conduit for hope. And, even when that hope hasn’t come to fruition, the weight of my phone in my hand has reassured me that, in mere seconds, I can be connected to someone who does want to hear from me.
So, for 48 hours, I was adrift. And it was wonderful. Not for the first few hours; not when I had to detox from it and felt the fear of what I might be missing flood my body. I went through the motions: announcing it on Facebook; emailing anyone whose address I could recall – but, after that, I realised how different, how much better, life was. When I was on the bus, not looking at my hand but gazing out of the window at the world… When I was freed from the tyranny of wondering when they’d call, because I’d never know… When I chatted to a woman in the park about her dog, because I couldn’t hide behind a screen…
My phone had changed from being a way of connecting with the world to a way of ignoring it. I pledge to lose it more often and see what comes into my life to fill the void.
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Photograph: Mark Harrison for Psychologies