When I took my iPhone into AT&T to replace it with an LG flip-phone, Josh-behind-the counter was confused. Why are you downgrading? Your iPhone SE works perfectly fine. I answered Josh: really, I just miss getting into arguments over the phone, then being able hang up as I simultaneously flip the phone shut. But that’s only part of the truth. I got rid of my iPhone for the broad and somewhat simplified reasoning that it was actually making me stupid. I thought—some people can “hold their liquor”, and some people can “hold their smartphones”. The latter can go through life, assisted by a smartphone, without suffering from it. They can Google only what they need to know and turn off, without getting lost in endless indie music forums. They can schedule their day to alert them constantly, without also constantly checking their phone screen to make sure they’re in the loop. They are, essentially, tech-healthy. I realized I am not one of those people.
My self-diagnosis was confirmed by Jean M. Twenge, in recent Atlantic article https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/. The generation in question is my own, it includes those born between 1995 and 2012. Twenge refers to us as “iGen”. The “destruction” that Twenge attributes to us is rooted in a slew of radically different behaviors and attitudes that are unique to my generation. Teen loneliness and depression rates have risen markedly in the past few years. Friends get together to hang out much less. If they do decide to, they record and curate their social life publicly on Snapchat or Instagram. Those who weren’t invited get to witness all the fun that they missed, first hand. My generation is opting out of getting drivers licenses, choosing not to date (and as byproduct, choosing not to have sex- parents rejoice), and sleeping less. We have more time, which we usually spend in our houses, not sleeping. A 2017 survey revealed the crux of this generation gap: in a group of more than 5,000 teens, three out of four had an iPhone.
I’ve heard preachers and social prognosticators yell out prophecies concerning my generation’s inevitable demise, so this isn’t new to me. I’ve been told my generation is ruining everything from fair debate to good music. I think each new generation will be consistently viewed as the group to come along and mess up everything the previous one set up. But when Twenge says that our generation may be set for destruction, she doesn’t mince words. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” I’m absolutely terrified by this. This isn’t part of a cyclical argument between generations, this is a phenomenon exclusive to mine. iGen has experienced the birth of the technological age, while its member’s brains are still developing. And I’m terrified because I can see the writing on the wall in my own life. My smartphone, intended to make my life easier, only made me less productive, more isolated, and unhappier.
No matter who you are, what you do, what generation you’re a part of, you wake up every morning with a choice. Actually, there’s a couple of choices. A couple hundred. Perhaps a thousand. Because our lives are just a long string of choices, decisions we might not be aware that we’re even making, habits that come to define us as people. All you have to know, is that at any point, you can actually make those choices on your own. The brilliant Carl Jung once said, I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Jocko Willink, former Navy Seal turned motivational guru, likes to say “Discipline equals freedom.” Not the other way around. If you feel as burnt out by your smartphone as I did, here is a resource that can help- a great app that rewards you for how long you can go without using your iPhone. I used it to great effect while trying to do homework.
And here’s a practical exercise – Pastor Rob Bell doesn’t look at his smartphone until after 1PM. That gives him all morning to go without checking email, social media, texts, etc., and to just be with his family. He thinks that this gives him more time to appreciate the world around him while still allowing him to maintain a professional life.