I’ve always been hesitant to embrace the most prominent trending technology.

I remember berating GPS users in 2004 because I was convinced that relying on a GPS would render physical maps inert. The precursor to handheld GPS devices mounted on windshields were sites such as MapQuest. I was able to compromise with these sites because it at least required forethought to search potential routes to your destination and write down or print out the directions. But even that came with hesitation. I prided myself on learning how to drive around as a teenager from communicating with others, keeping my eyes open, and using a patient, pragmatic mindset to bounce back from getting lost.

Now that I have a GPS application on my phone, I don’t have to know my city. I can mindlessly drive on autopilot until a digitized voice prompts me to change course. On the flipside, this application shows me real-time traffic patterns so I can choose a more efficient route and spots nearby I may not have discovered otherwise; it leaves room for spontaneity and removes stress related to traffic, arrival time, and fear of getting lost.

So I guess I’ll take it.

Then, when I was a young adult, friends and family started using digital cameras. I was appalled. What do you mean, you can take 100 pictures and delete the ones you don’t like? Where is the intention of using a roll of film, knowing you’re limited to 24 photographs per roll? Where is the patience of waiting to develop the film? Aren’t those photographs more important? More meaningful? Doesn’t that process create a more powerful appreciation for the moment you decided to capture?

Maybe. Maybe not.

There is extreme, unintentional, and detached overuse of digital cameras, where teenagers (and, let’s face it, adults, too) will spend an hour trying to take the perfect selfies to upload on their <insert social media accounts here> profiles; or parents who photograph their children so much that their Facebook photo albums could be clicked through fast enough to look like a flipbook—not a second uncaptured. There is also an intentional appreciation for the improved features (e.g., resolution, digital image sensors, and dynamic range) and limitless ability to capture, create, and share. And, of course, you can certainly own a digital camera without going to the extreme.

So, yes, I own a digital camera, too.

I could go on and on about other innovations that are stripping us of our self-reliance, forethought, intention, and patience. When I started writing, I intended to do just that. I realized, however, that these innovations are just tools. They are not inherently good or bad. They don’t force anyone to do anything. Self-reliance, forethought, intention, and patience are ideas and values we can preserve or let go. It’s ultimately up to the individual to choose how to live while incorporating innovations that add value rather than take it away.

Enter the smartphone.


I am not the first and certainly won’t be the last person to write about the deleterious impact smartphones can have on our physical and emotional health. I see dozens of examples a day in my students. But again, these are just tools. Before letting it get out of control, it’s important to set limitations.

This is what I’ve been doing to dumb down my smartphone:

  1. Remove Notifications. I removed all notifications that buzz, light up, or ping. The only noises come from phone calls (during certain hours of the day) and alarms.
  2. Remove Social Media. My time spent on Facebook and Twitter is now limited to my laptop, which means I spend less time logged into those accounts in general.
  3. Avoid Muscle Memory. I have a certain number of frequently used applications on my homepage. These apps are grouped/stacked into categories, and I can only see the first icon in the group. Every week or two, I rearrange the order of application groups. Not only do I have to take an additional step to think through what I’m opening, I also have to remember how I categorized the applications and find what I want.

Screenshot (Aug 8, 2016 1_33_38 PM).png

I challenge you to take a look at how you use the tools around you and make sure they remain tools rather than tethers.

Photograph © Ben Seidelman Some Rights Reserved

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