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Time to Unplug

About two and a half years ago, I ditched my reservations on regular cell phone use and joined the masses in getting a smartphone, an iPhone 3GS for those who know about these things.

The idea was to have an easy way to stay connected via e-mail to those I work with while I was away from my desk. I thought it would be helpful to make instant voice recordings of new tasks and article ideas that came to mind. And I was attracted to the thought of having an always-ready GPS.

My wonderfully reliable iPhone hasn't disappointed. I haven't gotten into daily texting or even using it as a regular phone, but with airplane mode on (to avoid unnecessary signals), I've become a heavy user of the Amazon Kindle application for the iPhone; I'm a big non-fiction guy - give me a well-written chronicle of someone who's had a unique life experience, and I'm all in whenever my family is asleep and I'm gifted a little me time. Michael Lewis, Jared Diamond, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jeanette Walls, J.R. Moehringer - these are just a few folks who can take me far, far away with their stories.

Point is, I know what it's like to live with my cell phone within reaching distance. For a good year now, I've regularly been falling asleep while reading one of my Kindle books on it.

Who needs the weather channel on TV or even the trouble of turning on a computer to visit the weather network to figure out if the grass needs watering, when, with a click of an app on the home screen of my iPhone, I can see how much rain we can expect at any hour of the day?

I no longer accept receipts at the bank - I prefer to log into my bank account via my iPhone and confirm in real time that deposits and withdrawals are accurate.

I could go on.

Here's the thing: a couple weeks ago, it occurred to me that I was becoming something of a stimulus junkie. Not through television, live events, shopping, or other commonly used outlets for warding off boredom, but through my cell phone. When I wasn't working, spending time with my family, or playing tennis, chances were good that I was reading something on my phone.

What's the problem, you ask?

I was beginning to feel empty. Even with instant access to any of my best-loved books, even with the entire world wide web available at the pads of my fingers while soaking in the tub or falling asleep, I felt...disconnected.

I began to remember that before life with an iPhone, I used to just lie down and think about things. Rather than watch videos of our boys on my phone, I used to just go into my own head and re-live my most cherished memories of them as babies and toddlers. I used to think about how my day went, what I was grateful for, and what I would do differently if given the chance, among other things.

It's not like I completely stopped having moments of quiet contemplation. It's just that with the range of ways in which I could entertain myself with a smartphone, I mostly chose to be distracted over giving myself opportunities to quietly rest, think, and feel.

With these thoughts in mind, for the past couple of weeks, I've been consciously reserving my phone for what it was originally intended, mostly a way to check on work-related matters while I'm away from my office, which has occurred maybe once or twice a day. I haven't been going to sleep with my Kindle app; instead, I've been drifting asleep with my own thoughts.

And you know what? I'm experiencing a return of that feeling of being grounded, of being able to better recognize situations where I need to show restraint. I'm purposefully injecting gratitude into my bloodstream, creating waves of healthy energy while at rest, and it all feels right.

I do love all that my iPhone offers. I don't plan on getting rid of it. But I've been awakened enough to know that for me, life feels more real when I'm emotionally unplugged from my mobile device.

- Written on my office computer via a wired connection :)


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What you said resonated with me deeply, from occasional use of facebook i have now been checking daily and filling my head with all the trivial thoughts of others (whilst facebook is a brilliant tool for keeping in touch, that is what it should be used for.....its really tempting to nose into the lives of others almost voyeristic in nature)
I have decided that i will only go on facebook if i need to contact someone in particular

Thanks for a brilliant insightful article


Quietness and it's sanctity are all too often downplayed. I too am guilty of sabotaging my own with my beloved iPhone. It is a wonderful invention, but I think a time out is due. It's in the quiet times that I reflect the days happenings-good and bad, and ask God for intervention. My quiet time will be just that. Thank you Dr. Kim for your wonderful posts and heeding to your own convictions.

This is an epidemic, especially for teens and adolescents. They are losing the art of contemplation and conversation.

I couldn't agree more! Unplugging is freedom. And, I've noticed it isn't primarily the young - it's everyone! The comments submitted have summed up my feelings very well - how annoying it is when in the middle of a conversation with someone, they start reading or sending text messages, checking emails... Once at a concert, my friend spent the whole time talking to her brother who was having some kind of issue...I had to move away from her to hear the music and then told her I wouldn't go to another concert with her if she took her phone inside the venue. Don't even get me started on kindles and those electronic books.
Unplug, slow down, use your mind, your there anybody out there who still prefers a conversation to a computer game or online chat room?

When I got my first smart phone, it was before the iPhone and before apps. For me, as a VP, it was all about have email on-the-go. But what I quickly discovered was that I had a compulsive need to pick up the device and check my email -- often when I was right in the middle of doing something else. When I recognized what was happening, I ultimately was able to curb that behavior. When the iPhone came out ... well, that was a whole 'nother level of distraction with all the apps and usability. Eventually the novelty of that wore off. And all was at peace. Except, if I got my phone out of my pocket for any legitimate reason, I would go through a "ritual" system check -- again, even I was in the middle of doing something else, say, like having lunch with my wife. Needless to say, they are a distraction. Kind of like when you're standing in front of a cashier and they answer a phone call right when you're next in line -- a line you waited in for 10 minutes. But the person calling just cut in front of you and didn't have to wait but seconds. My wife and I made an agreement long ago: no cells/smart phones during meals unless it directly relates to OUR conversation (like looking up movie times). Ultimately, it's allowed us to sit back and relax and enjoy conversation with each other -- much like we used to. That, and it's fun to look around and see all the other people on their phones, not really paying attention to the person sitting right there in front of them.

Dear Dr. Kim,
I couldn't agree more with your thoughts about being able to 'unplug' from the mobile (or any kind of an addiction to computer/internet/games etc.
People in society today seem to be disconnected from family and even friends, it would seem. When ever I go out to eat in a restaurant with family or friends I see others sitting around a table and they're often on their mobile phones and not even chatting around the table. People standing on streets and in aisles at the supermarket talking or sending a text message. What's happening with us?
I think it's great that you have come to realize that this is not normal and you caught yourself before you lost yourself entirely!
I am a teacher and it's difficult to teach students today with their cell phones and games at their finger tips. Students feel they have to have their phone in their hand all the time and don't know how to turn it off during class, at the movies, and even when they're driving. it's gone too far!
Thank you for sharing. I hope it will help others to come to the same realization that their need for phone isn't as necessary as they think it is.

So far I have resisted the temptation to have a smart phone partly because of the observed behaviour of current users- head down, rounded shoulders, oblivious to their surroundings! Mainly though I have tested, using kinesiology, many owners and their machines. Held within two feet of the owner the phone causes malfunction of their neurological control systems. I have yet to find an exception. The long term effects of this are not knowable to me but it would seem unlikely to be of benefit to health. Older phones have a similar effect but only when held much closer to the body. Nobody so far, even given a demonstration of potential harm, has been prepared to go without their iphone!

For the past couple of months I've been exploring meditation as a way to relieve stress and find a sense of balance in my life. One evening as I walked back to my car after a particularly rewarding meditation session, I passed a restaurant with outdoor seating where a family of 3 (father, mother, and daughter), were seated together, apparently waiting for their order to arrive. Sounds nice right? Sure. The only caveat was there was no relating going on at all - no one was looking or talking to anyone else at the table. Instead, the parents were busy examining the screens of their respective mobile phone devices and the girl, who must have been between 8-10 years old, had her face buried in an iPad! Out of nowhere, I became aware of feeling sad and also nostalgic for a simpler time - a time when human beings actually sat down to dinner and related to, i.e. talked and looked at, one another, and didn't make a show of pretending that one's physical presence suffices as "being present."


The bigger issue is the health concern with using the Iphone... in doing research on this, you will find that the Iphone NEVER shuts off even if you turn it off... It pings 2,400x per hour. and not only are you the user effected, the environment is and that means the humans around you.. I got the lowest SAR rating cell phone and keep it at a distance and being mindful of others..

I was very relieved to read this article. I am technologically inept, also am getting older, so have not yet had the confidence to launch myself into the iphone age, and don't have sons etc to help me do it. Nevertheless, I am shocked, on a daily basis, by how people seem 'married'to their various devices. The main thing is, that no matter where they are or what they are doing, half their head seems to be engaged on being 'somewhere else' or with 'someone else'. Also feel sorry for the hundreds of dogs being dragged along on a leash at arm's length, while the owner talks endlessly on the phone and pays no attention whatsoever to giving the dog a good walk!

You are 'smart' for limiting your use of your iPhone. I fully believe they have their unique place in the business of our modern world but it is easy to become dependent and/or addicted to them.

I have worked for one of the world's largest wireless companies for the last 10 years. To give an idea of how things have changed in such a short amount of time I'll give you a timeline:

2004 - the only 'smart' phones were Blackberrys and Palm devices, they were used mainly by businesses to send/receive documents and emails. Android and iPhones were but a dream at this time.

2006 - some of the first consumer phones produced that could access the internet, they were a huge hit even though the cost was much more than ever before.

2007 - the first iPhone launched.

2009 - the first Android devices trialed

2010 - the first wave of Android launches

2012 - total immersion - 9 of 10 devices made today are 'smart'.

Only 6 years. It is amazing what developers can accomplish within such a small space of a smartphone. They can do everything and then some.

Children as young as 3 use smart devices, usually a tablet such as an iPad or one of the Android devices. There are programs designed for the very young user.

There are medical reports stating there is a rise in mental disturbances related to smart device use, as well as addiction to the devices.

It is ironic that I work for a wireless company but never use my phone unless I have too. I am just not impressed. I cannot stand to read a book on a tablet, I have to have a real book in my hand to enjoy.

You are on the right track Ben, welcome back to the 'real' smart world! =0)

This is great! It's a really simple piece of advice, something that most people, at least on a subconscious level, know about, but most simply don't bother with it.

I'm an internet junkie, and thus I allot lots and lots of time with my computer and smartphone. Mainly computer, really, because I'm not much for social platforms like facebook and whatsapp. The emptiness that you mentioned is completely, 100% true. It's spot-on! I can have a million websites to surf, loads of games to play, tons of videos to watch and endless ebooks to read, but all of these just make the gaping hole within me grow wider and wider. I've tried recalling countless times about what I used to do before this stifling addiction; I drew a blank. I'm still trying to recall.

But it occurs to me that, perhaps, the past isn't relevant anymore. Perhaps all I need is to cut this addiction and see what life has in store for me that doesn't involve a virtual presence. Thank you, Dr. Kim, for finally letting me realize this. :)

(And thank you also for the reasonable captcha - I've come across some sites where I'd have to be a robot to be able to decipher their codes. The irony never fails to make me chuckle.)