by Victoria Renee Derr

4:33 PM. The white typeface on my iPhone stared back at me.

CNN notifications popped up on my lock screen, broadcasting reports about a shooting in San Bernardino, CA. SoundCloud sent a notification about Disclosure uploading a new track. Youtube asked if I wanted to watch VICE’s most recent documentary about Ali Boulala. And on top all that, my phone chimed to say my Uber had arrived.

I stepped out of my apartment building, eyes glued to the screen, and slid into the backseat of the Toyota Corolla, cheerily saying hello without looking into the eyes in the rearview mirror. My driver asked how my day was going, his voice reverberating with joy. Struck by his emotion, my eyes tore from my screen to look at the rearview mirror. His eyes crinkled in the corners, a physical manifestation of the joy in his voice. I set down my cell phone and proceeded to indulge in a conversation with him.

“It’s so hard to have a curious conversation with people anymore,” he said, his eyes trailing off into the Seattle skyline. The traffic on James Street leading to the freeway was backed up. As always. “It’s like, our phones have created this wall against our hearts that keep us from wanting to engage with others.”

And he’s right.

We’re all aware of the critiques against phone usage. We’ve all read articles (or at least headlines) on Time about Instagram creating high levels of depression and anxiety among users; we’ve all heard our Grandpa critique everyone at family functions for being on their phones rather than chatting with your cousins.

It’s no secret – for as much phones connect us, they also place a stake between us.

For starters, social media. Instagram and Twitter were created with the idea that users would consume. And that is how most of us use social media, right? Nonstop scrolling, sometimes mindlessly, through an overload of information. And in the 15 minutes you’ve spent liking memes and strategically not liking envy-inducing travel photos, you’ve probably gotten a notification or two from another social media platform, which causes you to slip further into the switching between two apps to see similar content.

But more widespread than just social media, this total disconnect that comes from connecting deeply to our phones. The more we stare at our screens, the less we find the need to talk to other people. The more you scroll through Instagram, the less curious you are to engage with them in person and find out what they’re all about. You already hold this idea of who there are, and there’s something about holding this preconceived (social media-ized) persona that keeps you from wanting to engage further.

These tiny robots have subconsciously become so much a part of our identity. The word iPhone literally has the word “I” embedded into it, a tricky way of us referring to a part of ourselves each time we think of our iPhones. Our phones have become a part of us, between our social media virtual versions and our Photos app that holds memories of months past. Before our screen even glows up (with a notification), we are looking into a blackened mirror (hence the namesake of the trippy show, Black Mirror), reflecting a darkened version of our faces back at us…

Even when we aren’t using our phones (or looking into our reflections), these little machines stay connected to wifi or to cellular data, never leaving us unplugged for long.

Beyond the realm of social media, the internet in general.

We live in an age of mass consumption — we consume enormous amounts of information daily. Today, you will consume as much information as Shakespeare took in over a lifetime. Researchers have found that it takes twenty-five minutes to recover from a phone call and fully process the information.

In a world where we’re faced with interruptions every eleven minutes, we are never fully caught up with our lives.

We have facts streaming in on us and less time to process. Your news feed keeps scrolling into a downwards abyss, minutes tick by, information flashes by, and your brain is scrambling to sift and process what it deems important.

We are bombarded.

“That’s kinda a part of why I like driving,” my Uber driver said. Back in the car driving through Seattle evening congestion, we had inched forward a few blocks, the skyline coming into full view, and the wintertime sun just beginning to set, painting the sky pale purple. “I can’t use my phone, so it’s eight hours or so where I’m just looking at the city, or trying to talk to the people who gets in my car, but,” he chuckled. “Most of them are on their phone, you know?”

I know. My phone sat next to me on the leather seat, untouched during this conversation. I could feel the buzz of notifications but hadn’t paid mind to them, letting them slip from my priorities. I looked at the sunset out my own window, and gave my brain a break from being bombarded. It would take me twenty-five minutes to process the conversation my driver and I just had. I knew it was almost impossible to keep my brain from ingesting any other information — that’s hardly possible in this day and age.

But what I could do was take a step back from my phone, take a step back from this Toyota Corolla, and indulge myself in the sunset sky.

Not looking at your phone, in this day and age, has become a luxury. Those first few minutes of the morning not spent responding to texts that arrived as you slept? Golden. The two hours of a movie, or a hike, that you get to engage with something apart from your screen? Recharging.

Although the idea of chucking out your smartphone and replacing it with a Razr flip phone is alluring, it probably isn’t so practical. Google Maps, notes, having your email always accessible (which is a whole other topic – heard of the term work life balance? Burnout sneaks up on those who are always working…) has become a staple of sorts for the smartphone inclined.

So, rather than doing the dramatic and tossing out our iPhones, why don’t we try to rewire our connections with our phones? Maybe calling them something other than iPhones, or shifting the relationship we have to these tiny robots.

Here’s a few ideas of what has reframed my relationship with my tiny robot…

1. Calling it a tiny robot.

This adds an element of cuteness, and utility. No longer using the word iPhone, I feel a mental separation between myself and it manifested in my language choice. Language is a code, and affects the way we perceive the world around us, conscious or not. Using the word iPhone began to make me feel uncomfortable when I took into account I was using the word “I” referring to my technology.

So tiny robot it is.

2. Content creation versus content consumption.

Social media was created with the idea that users would consume. And that is how most of us use social media, right? I mean, you may be checking Instagram 30 times a day, but are you posting 30 times a day?

Most likely, no.

The idea of consumption versus creation is where I began to reframe my relationship with social media: how I could, and should, use social apps. At a high and mighty point in my life, I had a rule for myself: every time I opened the app, I had to post high quality content rather than just consume content.

Unsurprisingly, my post and story amount increased. Surprisingly, I opened the app less and less because sometimes I frankly didn’t have anything to post. Either that or my Instagram story was already oversaturated and I didn’t want to overwhelm.

3. Mindful content consumption.

Along with focusing on creation rather than solely consumption, I began to fine-tune what content I was seeing. I asked myself…what do I want to see on my feed? What content invokes a positive response, rather than a negative response? Less news and more local jewelry makers? Less travel-bloggers and more of my close friends’ finstas? Less second circle acquaintances and more astrologers?

After doing an unfollow cleanse of accounts that no longer inspire me (or accounts that I had followed to be entered in giveaways), I was able to open myself up to following content that I did want to be seeing. Content that inspired me visually, or invited me to reflect on Mercury’s current transit.

4. Turning off social media notifications.

Speaking of social media, how about turning off notifications? Notifications that pop up onto our home screen induce a hit of dopamine – a “like” equals a rush, according to the neurotransmitters in your brain. With frequency of virtual acceptance and tiny dopamine hits comes a certain cycle – need, post, feed. Rinse & repeat.

With simply disabling your social media notifications, you’re less likely to be force fed information about an app that isn’t even opened.

5. Disabling all notifications.

Taking it a step further, disabling all notifications. On my phone now, the only notifications that pop up on the lock screen are phone calls. That’s it. I’ve told everyone important in my life that if a situation is every urgent, call me. If it’s not urgent, send a text or Whatsapp and I’ll get around to it once I unlock my phone (which happens a few times an hour anyways).

6. Limiting screen time per day, or taking regular social media detoxes.

On an iPhone, you can set time limits for different apps. Or you can set a rule to not use electronics after 8pm. Or you can take a weekend break from using social media at all. There’s so many ways to go about starting digital detoxes. For beginners, we would recommend alloting yourself an hour a day of consciously not using your screen. For the more advanced, we dare you to go a whole month with no social media. For the daredevils, SmartWater made a challenge to go a whole year without using a smartphone.

A whole year (or a whole two hours) without using a screen? What could you do?

In the downtime…

Things to do instead of scrolling through social:

Read a book (or just hold one and flip through it). Take a hike. walk around the neighborhood. Pick a color of the day & photograph everything you come across that is that color (or at least take note of it). Call a friend & ask them one random question. Write a poem. Stare off into space & smile. Stare off into space & sulk. Pet a dog (your own or or stranger’s). Water your snake plant (yes it may be low maintenance, but it needs water too).