On Writing, Smartphones, and “Waking Up”

glasses

Something happened last month that has profoundly affected my creativity.

My smartphone broke.

Yellow jackets get pretty ornery around late summer (they sense their collective impending doom), and as luck would have it, I got stung in the hand while scrolling Twitter. My phone hit the sidewalk and even a fancy $3 case and screen protector couldn’t save it.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything, as it would turn out.

Enter the flip phone.

I’ve contemplated how much I relied on my smartphone for a while now. I used it too much, and research is showing the negative effects of technology overload, especially on creativity. I decided to switch back to a flip phone as an experiment, and the results were almost immediate.

This is what I found:

  • I’m perfectly OK without a smartphone. I have other computers/devices (GPS, laptop, etc) to access maps and information when I need it. It’s freeing to not feel “connected” at all times.
  • I AM BORED AGAIN. I realized just how long it had been since I felt boredom. I was literally programmed to grab my phone to “fill in the spaces”. Now that the flip phone only serves very intentional functions (calls, texts, email) my body and brain are literally retraining themselves to accept true downtime again. Walking around, standing in lines, all those things that prompted smartphone use are filled with contemplative thought and observations.
  • I realize how pervasive smartphones are. I’ve joked that I’m “awake” now, but being more present has allowed me to see just how often other people are on their devices. It is nearly constant. Kind of scary, but this experiment is about me, not about what others are doing.
  • My attention span is slowly returning. Deliberate, focused consumption of books, movies, and television (even a newspaper!) without the risk of distraction has made me realize the strange cognitive dissonance that “two screening” had caused. For the first few days I felt randomly distracted and jittery sitting through an entire movie. That is slowly fading, and I find myself contemplating what I give my attention to more deeply.
  • I have gotten so many more story ideas in these bored moments. Creativity appears to be expanding to fill those gaps.
  • I have more time to write. Those little (and not so little) pockets of free time are spent writing instead of mindlessly scrolling on a screen.

This endeavor is still burgeoning, but so far I’ve seen mostly positives for the trade offs in convenience. Will I ever get a smartphone again? I’m not sure. But for now I’m enjoying a newfound well of creativity, and only paying $20 a month for something that won’t break if it bounces off a sidewalk.

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2 thoughts on “On Writing, Smartphones, and “Waking Up”

  1. K.M. Allan says:

    It is scary how reliant we are when it comes to our phones. I recently used the new iOS feature that lets you know how much time you spend on your apps and how often you pick up your phone in a day. To say I was shocked at how much of my time is spent looking at a screen would be an understatement. Very sobering.

    Liked by 1 person

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