Meditations on the potential dangers of smartphones

The distraction's effect on mental health

Self-reflection in a world of smartphone obsession.

You’re waiting for the bus, walking to class, or lying in bed about to sleep — these brief moments to ourselves were once occupied with introspection, observation of our surroundings and reflections about who we are and what we feel.

For me, I always needed to fill my time engaging in an external activity. Whether it’s socializing, working, participating in extracurriculars or obsessively planning for the future, this need to always be productive has made enjoying the holidays particularly difficult for me. The idea of unwinding, relaxing and kicking back was always a more stressful prospect to me than juggling my course load, a myriad of extracurriculars, friendships and jobs. 

However, this past holiday I made a commitment to try relaxing. I meditated, spent plenty of time alone and reflected on myself and the past semester. Eventually, I came to notice a discomfort emerging. But instead of denying this feeling, I decided to let it wash over me and explore it. Truly embracing my emotions became a daily practice of mine.

Since then, I’ve come to many conclusions from my self-reflection. One of these being that I was pursuing certain goals and activities for the wrong reasons. Not out of personal enjoyment necessarily, but to distract myself from my own persistently negative feelings. 

When I look back, these constant distractions were part curiosity, but also aimless diversion that enabled me to run away from myself and avoid dealing with my personal issues. Although I’ve gotten better at properly allocating my time, instead of being on the go 24/7, I also noticed my smartphone use has been another facilitator of escapism for me. 

Due to the ubiquity of smartphones and social media, we live in a culture increasingly lacking of mindfulness and introspection. We’ve become a society that’s self-absorbed instead of self-reflective. Constant access to digital content has us overstimulated to the point that we feel anxious without our phones, and are becoming out of touch with ourselves and those around us.

We become distracted, clouded, stressed and overstimulated  notification junkies that medicate our underlying negative feelings and thoughts by scrolling, checking texts, listening to music and losing ourselves in the vast online space our smartphones enable. 

The intoxication of social media ‘likes’ and the endless expanse of digital information have come to define our generation. We rarely allow ourselves to be left alone with our thoughts, and have little time to make sense of our day or ourselves.

All too often, we placate our sadness and uncomfortable thoughts or feelings with virtual reality. Instead of utilizing our reflective capacity to confront what troubles us, we yearn for the brief rush of dopamine that using our smartphones provides to distract ourselves from ourselves. It seems that one of the biggest challenges for individuals in the modern world is the capacity to sit in a room alone and take in who they are — which is concerning. 

Between classes, extracurricular activities, socializing, studying and finding time for basic necessities, we have the potential to fall in a trap of emotional self-neglect. Smartphone usage compounds this. All too often, we’re navigating life in a reactionary way, instead of living presently, openly and with focus.

Many studies have concluded that social media and the mere presence of smartphones is distracting, robbing many of us of our ability to focus on what’s necessary. It fills the unease of boredom, which is problematic as this is a state meant to move you to action.

The danger of increasingly pervasive multimedia and smartphones lies in the potential to use them as crutches that enable us to avoid uncomfortable feelings. 

In the same way that some of us might overeat, drink or even work too much, there’s a very real and socially acceptable possibility that we treat our underlying emotional issues with convenient access to distracting digital information.

Feeling uncomfortable is typically a sign that you should address what’s troubling you or commit to a plan of action that will enable you to face these feelings. However, with our phones always in arm’s reach, this process is difficult. We’re tuned in to our phones so much that we’ve become out-of-tune with ourselves. 

Instead of letting ourselves feel that knot in our stomachs, the tightness in our chests or that lump in our throats, we scroll through Facebook, watch videos, engage in monotonous text conversations or drown in a sea of memes, never really coming to grips with what’s making us feel the way we do. 

I think sometimes we’re afraid to allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable emotions, because they can lead to painful realizations that are difficult to digest. Instead of facing what we have to in order to actually feel better, we pick up our phones, letting those feelings fester and become more powerful, scarier entities that will only become more difficult to face with persistent avoidance.

In a world that requires constant decision-making and endless choices, it can be difficult to know amidst the pressure what choice we actually want to make. The whirlwind of everyday life can make knowing yourself and what you personally value difficult at times. 

We’re constantly overwhelmed with advertisements, media and the opinions of others. The only true freedom of choice we have is in familiarizing ourselves with the content of our own hearts and minds. However, instead of engaging in the introspection and meditation necessary for this self-knowledge, we spend our alone time scrolling or online. 

The next time you’re alone and unwinding from a stressful day, don’t pick up your phone. Focus on how your day made you feel, ride it out, let it hit you completely and understand those feelings. 

I engaged in so many distractions to avoid dealing with difficult emotions. However, these feelings always follow us, manifesting in some form or another, and at some point we will all have to confront what is underneath. 

I had to learn that I can’t be happy all the time. By giving myself space and time to dissect uncomfortable feelings, I now understand myself better, and my existence is far more fulfilling. 

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