I had an inkling this day would come. And it did. I broke up with my mobile phone.
Even though I’m still feeling the pain, I’m glad I did it. And even though I know the shock will eventually wear off, I’m still experiencing waves of grief. This has been one of the most difficult break-ups I’ve experienced in a long time.
You see, I didn’t even realize that I was in a toxic relationship until I had a moment of truth.
I was driving in rural Minnesota around 9:30 on a Sunday night. Since county roads don’t have streetlights, headlights create the only illumination. In addition, the new moon was creating nighttime darker than usual.
Suddenly, I saw a pair of tiny orange dots in the distance. As I got closer, my headlights revealed a deer standing on the side of the road. I’d driven this same route for over 30 years so I knew exactly what to do. I tapped my brakes to stop cruise control; readjusted my grip on the steering wheel; slowed my speed; and prepared to hit the brake pedal, if necessary.
I passed the deer with no problem, but my awareness had been raised. Three minutes later, I spotted another deer, and then another. They were out feeding. Just be cool and stay alert, my intuition told me.
Then suddenly my mobile phone—anchored to my windshield—lit up in full glory, revealing a text message from a friend. My phone was so bright that my eyes instantly darted towards it. In the next second, I spotted another deer ahead on the left side of the road.
Without missing a beat, I reached up, snatched my phone out of its holder, and tossed it onto the passenger seat. I’ll be darned if that’s going to distract me tonight.
It was my moment of truth.
I caught my breath and started to process the event. After several near-death experiences over the years—including car accidents—I don’t take chances like that anymore. And my recent 50th birthday has put more things in perspective for me. I knew that a text wasn’t more important than my life or the life of a deer.
When I got home, I removed the phone holder from my windshield and decided that being on the phone while driving my car—despite its convenience—was no longer a priority. Nothing is so important that I can’t wait until I’m parked or stopped to respond to it. Plus, as I drive over 1,000 miles a month, I often use my time in the car for meditation and unplugging from the world. My phone was just keeping me corded to it.
I have always prided myself on being an early adopter of technology, but now I realized that I’d reached the tipping point—technology was taking too much power from me.
The decision to not be a distracted driver started a series of realizations about how my mobile phone was occupying too much time and space in my life. Hence, it was time to break up. I sat down with my phone and we discussed options—we ultimately decided a trial separation was in order.
After the break-up, I began detoxing from digital addiction. Besides removing the phone from my car, I began assessing other areas of my life where I’d been unconsciously wired:
Companionship. While waiting in line at the post office, I noticed that I automatically reached into my pocket for my phone to keep myself company. Although checking for an important message might be appropriate—particularly for someone who works virtually—I was mostly checking my phone out of boredom. Also, most people won’t talk to you when your nose is in your phone, and since some of the best conversations happen spontaneously while waiting in line, I surely don’t want to miss those.
Documentation. At a recent concert, I noticed how so many people had their phones out recording the concert while they watched. I can understand snapping a picture or taking a short video snippet, but more than that seems ridiculous (and illegal). If you’re looking into your phone, you’re missing out on the live performance. Which is more real? My realization was that my phone would never replace the event. It was time to embrace the moment more than the memory.
Telling time. About 10 years ago, I replaced my watch with a gift from my buddy Shawn— a leather watchband with a blank metal plate on which the word NOW was engraved. This allowed me to leave physical time and move into spiritual time. Since then, my phone has been my watch…until now. I’m testing out a more balanced approach. I’ve resurrected one of my old watches, gave it a new watchband, and installed new batteries. So far, so good—as long as I still remember that it’s always “Now.”
Photo ops. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a shutterbug. I have even been a professional photographer during my travels; so naturally, I love having my phone with me to capture moments on film. But since the break-up, I’ve had to re-think my sweet tooth for snaps. How often do I really go back and look at all those pictures? Occasionally. But does the ROI of all the time spent taking those pictures really balance out in the end? Perhaps not. Sometimes the impressions left in our minds are enough.
Social media. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the benefits of social media both personally and professionally, but if I find myself camping out online for large chunks of time, it’s a signal to shift my focus. Especially with the recent explosion of online activity due to the social, economic, and political changes in our country and around the globe, spending too much time on social media just creates a black hole. Rather than spending two hours online, I could have been talking to a real person and learning about what’s happening in my own neighborhood. And since I value my time and energy, I strive to be working smarter rather than harder.
Do I miss having my phone around all the time? Sometimes. But we still see each other a couple times a day, and for now, that feels better: Our relationship is more balanced. And, ultimately, isn’t that what healthy relationships are about?
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people maintain balance during transitions in their work, relationships, and life. Learn more at michaelsunnarborg.com