Maya Oren is getting a new phone.
It won’t run apps, take photos or send her notifications. This phone goes back to the basics: The device will simply place and receive calls.
But Oren won’t get rid of her current smartphone entirely. Her new phone is basically a middleman: It will accept calls forwarded from her iPhone.
Why go through all the trouble? Oren is addicted to her smartphone, and she needs to break free.
“I wake up in the morning and my heart is racing out of my chest,” Oren says. “I’m checking Instagram. How many new followers did I get? How many people did I lose? What am I going to post today?”
Oren is looking into the Light Phone, a gadget marketed toward millennials with a mission statement that declares: “multitasking is a myth” and that “our phones have become our nervous habit, our invisible crutch.”
The 27-year-old entrepreneur isn’t the only person trying to overcome her smartphone addiction.
“If you walk out your front door and throw a dart, any of us are addicts. The genie is out of the bottle,” says Kay Rhind, a 52-year-old sales director in Silicon Valley. “If everybody is an addict, no one will tell you it’s an addiction. They’ll say ‘it’s a necessity in life.’ ”
Rhind cuts off her home’s WiFi at 11 p.m. every night and downloaded OurPact, an app that allows her to shut off her three teenagers’ phones remotely.
Then, she continues to use her smartphone. After all, “it’s for work,” she says.
“I’m justifying myself,” Rhind admits.
Are smartphones the cigarettes of our era? Are they an addiction we intuitively know is unhealthy — even without the confirmation of hard evidence — but continue because, well, everyone’s doing it?
Yogis and pastors across the country have called for digital detoxes. There’s been a fresh wave of articles about how to curb our smartphone addictions. The suggestions are often the same:
• Don’t use your phone an hour before bed.
• Don’t charge it in your bedroom.
• Don’t check it first thing in the morning and delete social media apps.
And a small parade of former tech executives have come forward to raise alarms that their innovations are, perhaps, just a teensy-weensy bit evil and could be a destructive force acting upon both our psyches and our democracy.
Larry Rosen, a psychologist who studies society’s relationship with technology, says society is in a “really interesting pit.” He thinks we’re going to sink even deeper into the abyss of smartphone obsession, though not so deep we can never escape.
Oren generates digital marketing content for a living, and she’s grateful for the online connections her smartphone has wrought, even as she grapples with its hold on her attention. But sometimes, her phone feels like an ever-present taskmaster.
Your phone holds everything, from work-related emails to photos of your family and friends.
Andrew Martin, a research librarian in D.C., considered getting rid of his smartphone.
“But we can’t just go cold turkey,” he says. “We rely on them too much for legitimate, logistical stuff like navigating.”
What would be required if you wanted to revert to a flip phone? A camera, a paper calendar and address book? Online dating would not be as easy as swiping right, and there would be no easy access to work emails in your off-hours.
Rosen, the psychologist, thinks it’s not just entertainment and utility that pulls us to constantly check our phones. It’s obligation.
“If you text me and I don’t text you right back you start thinking things like, ‘Is he mad at me?’ We never think, ‘He’s busy,’ ” Rosen says. This is why he believes trying to quit for a while doesn’t do much good. “When you emerge from your time of detox, the situation is more bleak. Instead of having a few email messages, you’ve now got thousands.”
One of Rosen’s colleagues found that smartphone alerts can become a source of anxiety. Next time a text message alert sounds, try to resist looking at it for as long as you can and notice how your body feels.
Rosen, co-author of “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” is appreciative that some companies are starting to help consumers crawl out of the hole of obsession. He points to Apple’s Night Shift option, a setting that schedules phones to emit less blue light, which can cause people to stay awake.
Other tools are emerging in the form of apps such as Checky and Onward, which allow consumers to track their phone usage.
Oren is starting small. She bought an old-school alarm clock and has tried, with mixed success, to wake up to that instead of her cellphone. And, when she’s walking around, she tries to keep her phone in her bag rather than in the palm of her hand.