Our Phone Challenge Results

We’re probably all a bit guilty of this. We do something awesome – we play with our kids, go for a run, or cook a delicious dinner from scratch. Rather than just be content with that, we feel the urge to post about it on social media.

Wait…why is that?

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What We Learned This Month

Josh and I just finished a month-long break from (mostly) using our phones around our children. Here’s the details and inspiration for the challenge. We still texted some and checked important things once they went to bed, but there wasn’t a whole lot of time for social media browsing. I learned a lot this month, but it wasn’t at all what I expected.

I expected to be bored and I expected to really miss my phone. I expected long periods of introspection interspersed with quality playtime with my kids.

What’s interesting is that I wasn’t bored. Not using my phone turned out to be way less boring than using it. We went more places and did more things. When I was home with the kids, I wasn’t mindlessly scrolling, I was more engaged. And as a bonus, my eyes didn’t hurt from looking at screens too long.

There were downsides of course. It was harder to talk to my friends who weren’t there in person. It was very hard to read and write blogs. I was a little disconnected from the personal side of social media….but a temporary disconnection is okay.

I did get some time to sit and think, but the funny thing is it was often after the kids went to bed. So even when I was “allowed” to use my phone, I opted not to…reading a book, talking to Josh, or drinking some tea won out more often than not.

I really did observe more of the world around me. I enjoyed some lovely warm and breezy days. I sat and watched the clouds at sunset for the first time in years. I watched lightening as a storm rolled in one evening. Observing these everyday natural wonders is seriously so much better than browsing my phone!

I learned how to have better conversations with my almost-three-year-old Malachi. I fought the urge to pull out my phone and take a picture, write down what he said, or take a video. I just listened and laughed a lot. I was indeed more present.

I know I had a slight problem because right before the challenge Malachi was pretending to breast-feed his baby monkey and he asked for me to hand him his phone. It hit me that I probably do this exact thing at least five times a day. So putting the phone away might mean I forget to document some of his antics, but isn’t forgetting a little bit better than having my phone in front of me constantly? 

It wasn’t planned, but we shattered our tablet screen this month, which is strangely ironic! We mostly used it for games for Malachi, so he’s had less screen time as well! Fortunately, he hasn’t acted the least bit deprived. I highly doubt we’ll repair or replace the tablet…Malachi hasn’t asked for it once. Instead he has asked to be read a lot of books. We’ve been going to the library 1-2 times a week! It’s a little more work to read aloud than it is to just give him the tablet – part of me misses the convenience of it – but I think the result is clearly worthwhile.

In spite of becoming more aware of how I appear to my son, I learned a lot about how much of my value comes from social media.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

Before Facebook and Instagram, much of our daily satisfaction and value was intrinsic value. Other words for intrinsic are innate, inborn, natural, built-in, deep-rooted, basic, and essential. This value is born in us. We naturally feel good when we have a good day or accomplish a goal. We don’t rely on anyone else for this kind of satisfaction…until recently.

The world of social media seems to have created a new and rather needy desire not just for our own satisfaction, but for the approval of the masses. This is extrinsic value – it comes from outside ourselves. We rely on others in order to get it. Nowadays it often comes in the form of “likes,” “comments,” “views,” and “reactions.”

“Had a great workout!”

“Baked cookies!”

“Enjoying the sunset with the bestest guy ever!”

Our Satisfaction Process goes something like this:

  1. Accomplish
  2. Post
  3. Receive positive feedback
  4. Feel satisfaction

Whereas before social media our Satisfaction Process was:

  1. Accomplish
  2. Feel satisfaction

What if we could get back to simply enjoying the workout, the cookies, the sunset, and the bestest guy ever without telling anyone?

Is that even possible anymore? Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not making fun of anyone who posts these things. I’ll be honest and admit I type those statuses all the time! And even when I don’t sometimes I’m composing them and fighting the urge to share.

“Today, everything exists to end in a photograph” Susan Sontag, 1979
“Today does everything exist to end online?” Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation.

The Power of Positivity

Positive responses from others feel good, and they always have. The phenomenon is that social media makes it easier than ever to elicit those feel-good positive responses. We can easily bask in 100 “likes” when we do something great, and “hide” or “unfollow” those who don’t give us what we want. It’s just not that simple in real life.

I’m currently really enjoying the book Reclaiming Conversation. Author Sherry Turkle writes that employers in all fields nowadays are facing two huge hurdles: employees that don’t know how to verbally relate to one another, and employees who need constant positive feedback in order to be productive. Hmm…. Is it possible that we’re slowly losing the ability to empathize and be productive even on the job because sites like Facebook conditioned us that way? Do we rely so heavily on the praise of others that it causes frustration and neediness in real life?

Decisions, Decisions

Another thing I’ve noticed that social media makes simple is crowd-sourcing. We no longer need to ask our parents and grandparents for advice about life. The answers are just a click away. But sometimes all this information can fog our own judgement and instincts. It’s so easy to research and make “fully informed” decisions that we’re now satisfied with nothing less. We must weigh all our options and ask all our “followers” before making simple choices like which hairstyle to go with.

Before cell phones we didn’t have the ability to call our spouses every 10 seconds while grocery shopping. We relied on our own judgement to make those decisions we weren’t sure about.

Must Share Now

This doesn’t just apply to things we do, it applies to our thoughts as well. Both me and Josh are guilty of this: we hear a quote so good, so wise, and so relevant the first thing we want to do is post it. Forget what it means to us in that moment. Forget about personal meditation and application. We just “share” it and we’ve done our part. Our intention is to enlighten others with our snippets of genius. But these good intentions might be a slight bit self-serving if they make us look smart….and has anyone actually changed the world yet with a status or a tweet?

Josh and I have had the realization – and it’s a challenge for all of us – that maybe some thoughts aren’t meant to be instantly shared…in spite of the fact that technology caters to that. Maybe some thoughts are meant to be mulled upon, chewed up, saved for later, and repeated later in real-life conversations when applicable. In person, the listeners can give real feedback and bounce their own thoughts on the matter around. We could all come away challenged and inspired by the discussion. Maybe, just maybe those conversations are the kind of thing that will actually change the world…

…And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’m posting this thought for the world to see…

The Power of Posting

If we’re completely, completely honest with ourselves, how many things do we do just so that we can post them later?

I’m speaking to myself here too! I love photos and memories. I love sharing them and reminiscing. But there is a line.

When you order a latte at the hippest coffee bar in the city and position it so the sun is hitting it just right, and by the time you’ve shared the photo the coffee is getting cold… I think that’s a sign of a trouble.

Maybe part of living genuinely is just saying no to that game. Just doing your own thing and maybe taking a picture…maybe not…

Now that my little phone challenge is at an end, my challenge to you and me is to just relax. Just enjoy. 

Enjoy that latte.

Enjoy that sunset.

Enjoy that baby giggle.

Enjoy it for what it means to you, and not the “reactions” it will inspire.

An Imperfect Success

I’ll be perfectly honest and admit that some days I didn’t do a very good job sticking with the challenge. Some days I was still on my phone in front of the kiddos, in spite of the fact that I was avoiding most social media. Just checking notifications and putting things on the calendar cut into our day sometimes.

But the wonderful thing about a challenge like this is that even when not executed perfectly, it changes how you view things. I became more aware of my phone usage. I plan to continue to limit my social media consumption in spite of this challenge coming to an official end. Even an imperfect challenge is a success if it opens our eyes.

Highlights from Reclaiming Conversation

This book was the perfect read during our month-long hiatus. Here are some suggestions that stood out to me:

  • Remember the power of your phone. Slow down.
  • Create sacred spaces for conversation.
  • Take intentional breaks and know when to take them. When a child needs your full attention. When a friend says “can we talk?”
  • Don’t feel that you must reply to everything right away. It’s okay to say “let me think about it.” Or respond later.
  • “Unitastking” is the next big thing. Better to do one thing at a time than multiple things poorly.
  • Talk to people with whom you disagree – people use the Internet to limit interactions to those with whom they agree.
  • Give each conversation at least 7 minutes to take off before turning to your phone instead.
  • Don’t view the world and people as apps – expendable, controllable, there to affirm you and fix your problems.
  • Choose the right tool for each job. Some situations are appropriate for email and chat and video. Other situations must be handled in real life.
  • Be self aware. Know when you have crossed the line with technology around your family, with your friends, etc.
  • Don’t avoid difficult conversations.

In closing, I encourage you to watch this performance “Be Present” by hip hop artist Propaganda. It’s definitely worth watching and sharing:

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