Techsparation Anxiety

When I decided to go back into teaching, the one thing I dreaded most was cell phones in the classroom. I knew it would be an issue, so I decided that I just wasn’t going to let it bother me. At first it didn’t. I would tell students to put their phones away when we were working on a project or when I was making an announcement about homework (few things are as annoying as being asked a question about the thing you just talked about because someone was on their phone).

In general, it’s not a huge problem. But there are always a handful of students who are constantly on their phones. These are the ones who ask questions about the very thing you just explained. As I had to repeat simple things over and over (and over and over) it began to bother me more. I don’t care who you are and how much you claim you can pay attention to two things, you can’t. You just can’t. I have vast anecdotal evidence to back this up.

I understand the urge to reach for your phone when you get a little bored or you’re waiting for someone to catch up. But this constant need to have your phone on your desk or in your hand constantly At. All. Times. just boggled my mind.

I’ve talked to my students about it, and most of them admit to feeling anxiety if their phone isn’t at least within eyesight, better yet in their hand. Safe and sound. I rolled my eyes to myself and muttered a mental Whatever in true GenX form and chalked it up to the inevitable generation gap. I’ll never understand.

Au contraire.

I recently had a humbling experience. A couple of months ago I admitted defeat – both my iPad and phone were dying slow agonizing deaths. I didn’t want the expense of replacing both, so I decided to spend a little more on a phone (I don’t use contract phones or plans – can’t pin me down!) and see if I could adapt to the smaller screen and just use my phone like almost everyone else.

Turns out I can adapt quite easily. I’m on that thing all the time. Checking e-mail, looking something up, scrolling Facebook and Instagram, sending texts, etc. etc. In fairness, I was on my iPad a lot, but not constantly.

So, the humbling experience.

Over the weekend, my phone got stuck in a reboot loop. I tried to turn it off and reboot again, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried to figure out how to take the back cover off so I could I take out the battery and restart it. No deal. I resorted to my laptop and Googled how to solve the problem. I looked to see if there was a Youtube video. No. Nope. Nothing.

I could feel my irritation and anxiety rising. What scared me was the knowledge that my anxiety was about the fear of missing something. I knew I wasn’t entirely cutoff from the world. Although not convenient, I could access email, Facebook, Instagram, my blog, etc. on my laptop if I needed to. But what if someone texted me and I didn’t get it for hours? Worse yet, what if someone texted me and it got lost in this loop and I never knew about it? I wouldn’t know what was going on! I would be rude for not answering! My life would end!

Okay. That’s being dramatic. I knew my life wouldn’t actually end. It would just be the beginning of the end.

Science has proven that we get a hit of dopamine every time we get a follow, friend request, comment, or like on social media. These hits feel good. Really good. And it’s addictive. Really addictive.

But surely not me! I’m immune from such emotional manipulation. Yeah, it feels good when someone likes a post or photo. I love it when someone follows me. But I’m not addicted to it. I don’t check my phone every time I get a notification. I don’t respond right away so they know I appreciate their interaction.

Or do I?

Well, kind of.

It made me realize that if I just had my laptop, I would check social media once or twice a day (like I did a bazillion and 7 years ago when I was still living in the land of tech resistant troglodytes). But I’m with it now. Current. Keeping up to date.

And addicted?

Yeah, probably a little.

It happened so subtly, I was even aware of it. A quick, efficient phone that works well, so I’m using social media more. The perfect size of my phone; it fits so nicely in my hand. The hit of dopamine. No one is immune. Not even me it turns out.

Fabric Filter 1Like everything, the first step in solving a problem is admitting there’s a problem. Then making conscious choices to do things differently. I really don’t want to be so dependent on addicted to my phone. But now that I’m back in working order (turns out you just need your dad to push the restart button and it will work for him) that phone feels really good in my hand. And maybe someone else just liked my latest photo of highly filterized fabric . . .

Awareness. Boundaries. Conscious choices. It’s going to be hard.