A Week Without a Mobile

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On March 2, 2014, Posted by , In Musings, By , With No Comments

The view across the Hong Kong harbour to Kowloon from the 59th floor of the Cheung Kong Center is mesmerising.  I take a sip of water and think again about the enduring message I want the Working Parent Group from Goldman Sachs to take away after my presentation;

What future do we want for our children?

New educational research from Gardner & Davis (2013) posits that the formation of an adolescent’s identify, capacity for intimacy and propensity for imaginative solutions is closely linked to the relationship they have with Apps and therefore mobile devices.  They conclude that this dependancy pervades all aspects of their formative years presenting a myriad of challenges for teaching, parenting and life.   We are becoming dependant on Apps for the navigation of daily life. Not long after this presentation, I lost my iPhone.

Yes, I know this is a common story you have either experienced yourself or know someone in the same situation. What tends to happen is that the phone is replaced quickly as for most people – particularly expat teenagers today – the thought of not being able to connect with your family, peer group and wider social network is almost unbearable.  I made a conscious choice to sit back, reflect and figure it out a replacement in due course.

What I experienced surprised me. The first full day without my mobile was a Saturday.  I admit that I began experiencing periodic anxiety, especially when those micro moments of stillness revealed themselves and my mind would send signals to reach for my phone and fill in the void.   After all, a lull in activity was the perfect opportunity to check my regular apps for signs of life beyond this momentary lapse in attention, right? The next day I couldn’t help but look at other people on mobiles and wonder, “what are they doing?” How did the people they were with feel? My thoughts and feelings were a mixture of both jealousy and contempt.

On the third day, I had accepted that life was OK without a replacement.  It was at this time that I began to be much more in tune with my inner thoughts. I became consciously aware of my breathing and surroundings, my hearing was sharp and I would reminisce about my childhood, a time when life seemed so easy and uncomplicated.  I’d ponder about my son’s future, what will life be like for him in a hyper-connected world with constant digital distraction? It is now day nine. I am writing this post using the iA Writer App on an iPad Mini and I have an almost new iPhone 5 next to me. Holding that device in my hand was almost “magical” with a flood of sensations reentering my mind when I unlocked the screen. It was as if I had freed myself from the enslavement of not being constantly connected.  I had regained my ‘power’ to control time and space, my perceived social and personal weakness had now come to an end.  Or had it?

And here is the challenge for educators and parents in the connected age.  More than any other time in history we need to support our young people, to help them focus on the basics, the essentials, the innate.  To stem the tide of technology dependency, we all need to foster self-control, mindfulness and empathy.   We must model the change we need to see and build in time for mental and physical well-being.  Downtime is good for us, it was certainly great for me.

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