zach shefska on phone

Why Do I Check My Phone so Much?

In light of today’s article from the Wall Street Journal, Cellphone-Cancer Link Found in Government Study, I’ve come to question why exactly I spend so much time on my phone.

I don’t even have it that bad. I read a different article from The Washington Post a few days ago titled, 13, right now — This is what it’s like to grow up in the age of likes, lols and longing, which put into perspective what I thought was my constant use of a phone. (Turns out I’m actually not that bad).

It seems like people are always looking at a screen. When they drive, when they go to bed,  when they are with their friends — sometimes I really don’t get it. But, I’m a part of it. This phone-mania has led me to question why I participate.

Half of the time I don’t have a notification to check but I still swipe right to unlock my iPhone. Why?

Because being on your phone is like playing the scratch-off lottery. Every time I check Instagram I’m playing the odds. “Who could have posted a new picture?” I might ask myself.

How social really is my social folder?
How social really is my social folder?

Swipe right. Unlock the phone. Open my aptly named “Social” folder. Tap Instagram. Pull down to refresh. Swipe down 3 times. Close the app. Lock the phone.

I do that at least 50 damn times a day. It’s the same process as buying a scratch-off lottery ticket.

Go to the store. Buy a ticket. Go back to the car. Take a picture and post to your Snapchat Story. Grab a quarter. Scratch the first section. Scratch a few more. Crumple the ticket. Throw away the trash.

I’m telling you, its the same exact thing. So what is the psychology behind my behavior? If I don’t care about the photos why do I check? Is it addiction? Is it obsession? Is it to avoid interacting with people around me?

Man, writing that down really makes it sound like I have a problem. But if everyone is doing it then I guess it can’t be so bad?

Addiction

I just did it again. I’m sitting here writing this article and I just picked up my phone and went to Instagram. This is incredibly painful to write.

What would happen if you tallied up the number of times you checked your phone in a single day? How high do you think the count would get? 100? 200? 500 unlocks?

I’ve been keeping track during this past hour and I’m already at 27. This is humbling.

So, am I addicted? Do I check my phone to get pleasure or satisfaction?

If the answer to that question was yes, that would qualify as addition. But for now, in this very moment I don’t think that’s the case, at least I hope not.

But reading the textbook definition of addiction is making me start to question my initial reaction.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

I can’t sit here and type this without admitting that as I read the first line I said, “oh shit” in my head. Can I “consistently abstain” from checking my phone? Give me a second, let me tweet that to my followers to ask.

So maybe I’m addicted — but everyone else is too. At least I’m not obsessed, right?

Obsession

I’ve managed to not open my phone for about 20 minutes now. I think it is because I am making a conscious effort not to. I put it on silent and that’s helping. This is difficult.

What alarms me the most about how I interact with my cell-phone is how numbing it is. When I unlock my iPhone I generally have no objective, I’m just unlocking it to unlock it.

I’ve never kept track of how many times a day I unlock my phone and then simply close it. (I’m honestly afraid to even try). But I’ve read a few articles that try and make sense of this nonsensical behavior. They tend to point back to obsession.

The main driver in these articles is FOMO (fear of missing out). I don’t think that’s why I open the Facebook app — I truly, genuinely don’t. But for many people, the anxiety and fear of missing something cool or important can drive their obsession to check their phone.

I’m not afraid of missing out on something from Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook — at least I don’t consciously think I am. Yet I still check constantly.

To be entirely honest, I’m afraid to look up the definition of obsession. I’m nervous that I’ll realize that I actually am obsessed. Here it goes anyway…

An obsession is the inability of a person to stop thinking about a particular topic or feeling a certain emotion without a high amount of anxiety. When obsessed, an individual continues the obsession in order to avoid the consequent anxiety.

I was right to be scared, but I don’t think I’m obsessed. I’m not checking my phone to quell anxiety, I’m simply checking it to check it. Maybe I am obsessed and I just don’t realize it.

It’s tough to argue that you aren’t obsessed when you justify your behavior with, “I’m simply checking it to check it”. Oh man.

Shielding

Section three of this article and I only took a 10 minute phone break before coming back to my desk. That’s good!! I checked Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Seriously, LinkedIn. What the hell am I doing??

I don’t need to look up a “definition” of shielding to know that I do it. I use my phone as an excuse to not interact with others way to often.

But this is where things get really scary yet unbelievably interesting.

I find it really odd that I behave in this way, that I shield myself from others. I am an outgoing, gregarious person. I’m not shy, I’m not that socially awkward, and I get along well with most people. Yet time and time again I find myself consumed with my phone’s screen, especially when surrounded by strangers.

Being inline at the grocery store comes to mind immediately. I can’t think of a moment when I am not on my phone while waiting for a cashier. Think of all the missed opportunities to meet interesting people. I shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, there are some really weird people there! Instead of interacting with those that surround me I’m on my phone.

Why do I do that? Why do I consciously avoid interacting with the people who are near me?

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I think I avoid real social interaction to instead concentrate on digital social interaction. Ugh, that was tough to write.

Why don’t I look up from my screen, crack a joke and potentially meet someone who can follow me on Instagram? I mean, grocery store lines are perfect opportunities to increase the number of likes you get on your photos, all you have to do is look up from your phone!

But really, I do this. And I see the people around me doing it too. Why are we so adverse to interacting in real life?

At this point, I think I shield because I’m so used to doing it. I concsiouly aim to portray myself as, “busy” or “important” by being on my phone. But in reality, I’m just like everyone else, sucked into my virtual world of Twitter streams and gym memes. It’s unhealthy.

What to Do

I think writing this was a good idea. I feel like typing out my thoughts has helped me better understand why I spend so much time on my phone. I almost feel healthier because of it.

I know there are countless articles online that recommend ways to ween yourself off of your cell-phone. I’ll take a look at those as my next step. In the meantime, I’ve got to go. I haven’t checked my phone in about 20 minutes — it’s time to see if anyone posted a new photo on Instagram.

Published by

Zach Shefska

Entrepreneur, developer, blogger from Washington, DC.

2 thoughts on “Why Do I Check My Phone so Much?”

  1. What you seem to be describing is that Social Media is really anti-social media, between earbuds, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram the people of this world have become anything but social. The essence of being a social being is being social with others while in person not while involved in some application. Conversation is just that, conversation between people orally not via text message or snap-chat or whatever else passes as a way to communicate today. Engaging people in person is the basis of the human race and really should not become a thing of the past.

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