Do the Right Thing

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4 Ways to be Smarter than your Smartphone

Be smart with your smartphone so that you control it and it doesn’t control you!

Are you smart with your smartphone?

During a brief break during one of my psychology classes this past week here at Santa Clara University I noticed that 100% of my students in the class of 35 were using their brief 7 minute class break to get on their smartphones (this behavior came before going to the restroom, getting a drink, or talking with peers). This is typical and not surprising of course. People seem to be addicted to these gadgets. But what was really surprising to me were their comments when I brought this observation to their attention. One said that they wished that smartphones were never invented. Another said that he wished computers were never invented (and we live here in the very heart of Silicon Valley and so his statement is high tech blaspheme). And a third student said in a frustrated tone that her smartphone makes her feel like she’s on call 24/7.

These college students have perhaps become slaves to their smartphones. Rather than controlling these remarkable new and convenient devices the devices seem to be controlling them! And these remarks are coming from 20-year-old college students who grew up with these technologies and have had smartphones since they were in about middle school.

Our class ended up having a thoughtful and productive conversation about the pros and cons of all sorts of technology. Cars, telephones, computers, and so forth have both an upside and a downside. They all can make our lives better at times but worse at times too. Plus, there are always so many unintended consequences when we adapt to new ways of doing things in our society as well.

How can we encourage these young students (and all of us for that matter) to find ways to control the technology and not become enslaved by it? There are no simple answers of course but a few simple principles might prove helpful.

1. Structure Smartphone Use

Willpower rarely works to change behavior but structuring your environment can help out a lot. So, having your smartphone with you only when you are willing to use it might be a good place to start. For example, if you don’t want to use it in the car, lock it in the trunk while you drive. If you don’t want to be tempted to use it at a social event then keep it in your car, leave it at home, or put it someplace that you won't be able to grab it so quickly. Or give it to a friend to hold during the event.

2. Give Informed Consent

Let people in your life know that you aren’t going to be available 24/7 via smartphone. Those who demand frequent contact might be told that you don’t keep your phone on you or take it with you at all times. If you give people the heads up that you have limited availability then they’ll hopefully alter their expectations about how reachable you might be at any given time.

3. Maybe You Really Need a Dumb Phone

Consider trading in your smartphone for a dumb phone. Maybe you really don’t need all of the great features that are available on a contemporary smartphone anyway. One of my students mentioned that he uses an iPod touch rather than a smartphone which, at least in his view, minimizes his use and makes him feel that he has more control over his life.

 4. Purposely Get Out of Cell Phone Range

Be sure to spend at least some time in locations where smartphone reception is hard or impossible to get. For example, swimming in the pool, lake, or ocean prevents you from using your phone. Rural areas, for example, might allow for good hiking, biking, walking, running, and just watching nature. This is likely good for your health, both physical and mental, and will get you off your smartphone for a while.

Be smart with a smartphone so that you control it and it doesn’t control you! Perhaps these 4 simple principles might help to get you started.

So, what do you think?

Check out my web page at www.scu.edu/tplante and follow me on Twitter @ThomasPlante

Copyright 2014 Thomas G. Plante, PhD., ABPP 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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