My name is Carla. I am the mother of two young daughters, and I am addicted to my iPhone.
I am also a clinical social worker, which means I don’t use the word “addicted” lightly. There are many different ways to understand and define addiction, but the one that has always made the most sense to me focuses on the extent to which the possible addiction interferes with an individual’s ability to function in relationships and work and to keep themselves and others safe. After careful (and somewhat reluctant) reflection, I have come to see my relationship with my iPhone as an addiction.
Although neither my daughters nor I have ever been physically injured because of my smartphone use, I suspect it’s just a matter of time. Despite the fact that texting while driving is illegal in my home state of Massachusetts (as it should be), I do, on occasion text or check Facebook, Twitter, and email at red lights. I would like to tell you that I never do it when my daughters are in the car, but that’s just not true. Studies have found that talking or texting on the phone while driving is roughly the equivalent to driving drunk, yet I would never consider getting behind the wheel tipsy. Even if I were to put down my phone in the car, that’s no guarantee of safety. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal speculates that the rise in childhood injuries may be due to distracted parents—distracted by their iPhones. I’ve certainly spent hours at the park with my head down, staring at a tiny screen, and the fact that one of my daughters hasn’t yet been injured falling off a slide or the monkey bars is probably just a matter of luck.
I am also less productive at work because of my iPhone. I’m horrified to admit that even as I sit in front of my laptop, typing away, I grab my phone to quickly check email or read the latest status updates or tweets. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t read more than four or five pages of a book or article without tapping on a little icon, hoping to see a new message or blog post waiting for me. It’s as if I’m constantly sitting in front of a slot machine, repeatedly pulling the arm, waiting for a win.
Perhaps most disturbing are the ways in which my phone use has impacted my relationship with my daughters. The girls are clean and fed and dressed and we spend quality time together reading books and playing baby dolls, but my beloved iPhone is never out of reach. In between Cinderella and Snow White, I’m checking Facebook. As I’m cooking dinner, I’m reading the New York Times. When we’re at the dining room table, I’m texting my husband to see when he’ll be home. It’s subtle, it’s insidious, and it’s a problem. In my worst moments, I get annoyed when I feel like my daughters are interrupting my “me” time with my phone. The reality is that I’m using my phone to interrupt my time with them. (And no, I don’t think my children deserve my undivided attention all the time, but I do think there is a difference between making a conscious decision to ask them to play alone or let them watch one TV show so I can get some work done and obsessively checking my phone when I had made a commitment to spend time with them.)
My relationship with my beloved iPhone has become a major problem, but I’m not prepared to get rid of it, either. My girls are in daycare or preschool four days per week, and my family is scattered across the country, which means I need to be accessible at all times. Furthermore, my contacts and calendar are on my phone, and I often reference them in meetings. I realized there is only one thing to do.
Delete the apps.
I seriously didn’t want to do it. Getting my iPhone was a childhood dream come true for me—literally. I loved the cartoon “Inspector Gadget” when I was young, even though I was constantly annoyed by the Inspector himself. I thought he was an idiot. But Penny (his niece) with her fancy watch and computer “book” containing all of the world’s information was my hero. I couldn’t imagine anything better than that book, yet I never imagined I would actually have one. Then the internet happened, and my iPhone happened, and voila! I was in heaven.
Until I wasn’t anymore.
So, much to my chagrin, I sat down yesterday afternoon and deleted over 75 apps on my iPhone. As I held my finger on the first app and watched it start shaking, I thought I was going to vomit. I hit the little black and white “X” and each time I was asked to confirm the deletion, I paused. I didn’t want to do it. But my relationship with my iPhone has gotten out of control. I deleted my news apps, including The New York Times, the BBC, and even my beloved Huffington Post. The rule was that if it was updated regularly or if it was something I could quickly check or scan, it had to go. I deleted radio apps and exercise apps, productivity and reference apps, apps for shopping, reading, writing, blogs, games, recipes, weather, knitting, mindfulness, medical info, kids’ videos and games, photography and photo editing—it all went. And then, I took a deep breath and deleted Facebook and Twitter. I went into my settings and turned off my email.
There are a few apps that are built into my iPhone, and cannot be deleted. I have moved those to my second screen, along with four or five children’s books that I will keep for extended waits at the doctor’s office. I am left with a total of 16 little boxes on my home screen, 13 of which are basic iPhone apps: messaging, phone, calendar, camera, photos, notes, reminders, clock, music, podcasts, maps, settings and internet. (I struggled with my decision to leave the internet app on the home screen. It’s a pain to use, so I don’t think I’m going to log onto Facebook.com from it, but we’ll see. If I am too tempted, it will go to the second screen, in a “don’t use” folder.) I left only three third-party apps: my Kindle e-reader, a meditation timer, and one for live-streaming my local public radio station. I decided to leave those because I may use them while waiting for appointments or meetings, but I’m not going to be tempted by them on a regular basis—they don’t update, there’s nothing to check, and I only read my books when I have significant chunk of time to do so.
I’ve still got Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I’m still on email. But from now on, I’m going to have to get up, walk into the other room, find my laptop, and boot it up in order to get my social networking fix. Deleting my apps is a small change, but hopefully it will help me be more productive at work, safer in the car and on the playground, and most likely, more present with my daughters.