The paradox of our times is that we have access to everything but often feel like we are not doing enough, learning enough, or acquiring enough. Hours, or even minutes, are filled with activity but still, there is a sense of feeling unproductive. Baby boomer mobile phone users may experience this to a lesser degree than Gen X/Y/millennial, if at all. But for the majority of millennial, driving, texting, checking social media, and responding to emails are all tasks being performed minute to minute on our phones – maybe even simultaneously. Hardly anyone is speaking on their phone (incidentally, a device developed to reproduce sound for communication between parties) anymore. The sense of not doing enough can create tension and a pervasive sense of urgency, which can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health over time. It is no wonder that as our lives become more digitized and we find ourselves living in a culture of constant response, more people are also using meditation (or mindfulness, which requires mastery of doing nothing but existing), as a means to escape the persistent flurry of activity that has taken over.
According to Renella, CEO of El Mejor Trato, email alone takes up 30% of our workday. It also serves as a distraction and can take the average person 23 minutes to refocus(Greenfield, 2014). This is why Renella banned email from his company, and only responds to five emails a day. This is an attempt to cultivate an environment of less distraction and requires each individual to evaluate the import of having a task attended to or delegated– if the task is deemed necessary, then a phone call can be made.
Putting an end, or at least a delay, between time of inquiry and time of response using digital devices can lessen reinforcement of expectations for immediate response and sharing of complete information. For instance, is it really necessary to tell our friend who we are meeting for lunch that we are parking our car and will see them in the restaurant in 60 seconds? Would it put them in a panic to just wait until we walk in? If we continue to rely on social media to communicate with loved ones, when we don’t post, will they worry that something has happened to us? Is it okay for me to not respond to a “how are you” text because it probably means a 30 minute text conversation? According to Jane Vincent who published an article titled “Emotional Attachment and Mobile Phones”, users indicated feeling anxiety, panic, thrill, strange, irrational, and “cool” with regard to mobile phone usage (Vincent, 2006). The findings indicated that due to the multiple roles fulfilled by phones, people experienced both pleasant and difficult feelings because of their dependence on their phone to complete daily tasks and maintain relationships with significant others.
Perhaps not everyone can implement a culture shift such as the one at El Mejor, but it may be beneficial to be more thoughtful instead of reactive to demands made on us by our phones (well, the contacts on our phones). Examining the relationship between phone usage behaviors and our emotional state can shed light on how to decrease some anxiety, increase productivity, and shed light on which behaviors we want to reinforce in our relationships via mobile phone usage. Perhaps smarter use of our phones means using it less for some things so that we can be more productive in other things.