I remember the first time I heard of text messaging. I was in Spain, it was fall 2006 and I missed a required meeting for my study abroad program because, apparently, someone had texted that the meeting was happening. There was no assistive technology then for cell phones, or none that I had any awareness of, so I never knew about the text.
For years, I avoided texting and mocked it for its “impersonal” nature. Finally, in 2010, when I had the money and was tired of being the one at the table with no phone in their hand, I bought a phone that was compatible with a screenreader whose name I cannot even recall now. I remember the screenreader being around 300 dollars, on top of the phone cost. (Have I mentioned lately how egregious it is that blind people, who statistically bring in way less income than sighted people, are required to pay for assistive technology on top of regular technology?) Anyway, with that particular phone model, (hey hey, HTC Dash!), I could text. It wasn’t always pretty or without ridiculous typos, but it was something.
In 2013, I finally transitioned to a smart phone, some kind of Android thing because I couldn’t afford an Iphone. The screenreader was built in, but flaky. I had literally bought the very last smart phone in the T Mobile store with a physical keyboard that pulled out beneath the touch screen.
Finally, in 2015, I got an Iphone. I could no longer ignore every other blind person saying how amazing the accessibility was. I was skeptical because I couldn’t picture using a phone without buttons and a keyboard. But, I found the accessibility on my Ipods to be pretty good, more or less, so I finally went for it.
This is NOT an advertisement for Apple. In fact, they used to be terribly inaccessible until they got sued for it by a blind advocacy organization. But I will say that I prefer Apple accessibility to everything else I’ve tried. It is fairly simple and streamlined across most apps. So, when I got my Iphone, I installed all the apps: Facebook, Twitter, Meetup. I set up my Gmail. I was all in, constantly checking my notifications and trying to dictate texts. (Results varied greatly there.)
Gradually, I’ve started to see the toll this has taken on me mentally. If I didn’t check my phone a few times an hour, or more, I felt stressed. When I did check my phone, I’d feel better for a minute, because I got some kind of emotional validation from someone “liking” something I posted on Facebook, or I received an instant message, or a new comment or retweet. And then I’d feel anxious until I could check my phone again. When I was out in the world, I’d walk blocks looking at my phone, not paying attention to anything else. Or I’d at least listen to a podcast or music. I fell into a trap of needing constant distraction, validation, proof that people loved me, or that they at least took a half second to click “like” on something I said. That was love now, apparently.
I only started to really realize this after I deleted Facebook and Facebook messenger off my phone. Suddenly, I was on a bus and had no idea what was going on on Facebook. I felt panicky for a while, and then not, and then relief. Facebook messages could wait.
There’s more to it, though. The energy I had put into checking Facebook now went into me checking email, constantly refreshing, refreshing, as I went about errands and life. I recently read an article that said that checking your email more often led to more stress. (Well, duh.) This past week, I’ve deleted all of my email off my phone. All that’s left is text messaging (still full of typos, still bad at dictating), and calling. Those are the only things I can do to contact others when I’m not tied to my laptop.
I know people have described the way we constantly look at our phones as obsessive, even addictive. I’m not authorized to diagnose myself, but I know that I have obsessive tendencies and my constant phone checking got stifling. I’m really hoping I can stick to just texts and calls. I’m hoping it will reduce my anxiety and increase the awareness of my immediate world.
What about you all? Do you do anything to reduce phone gazing? Or, does the constant gazing not affect you? Or, do you think the whole screen addiction thing is ridic? Tell me in the comments, and if you have the time and bossiness level, feel free to check in to see if I’m keeping myself accountable!