My Doctor gave me 2 weeks to solve my mobile phone addiction. Here’s what I did

Year ends are a great time to reflect on the year gone by – and an equally good time to plan the new year festivities. Unfortunately for me, 2017 ended on a tough note. In December 2017, I visited a hospital the third time in as many months for a chronic problem - Months of medication had failed to alleviate my pain. At the hospital, one of Pune’s well known doctors – lets call him Sush - had a terrible prognosis.

“I have a good news and bad news: what would you like to hear first?”

“The Good news Doctor”, I said.

“Your condition is worse than I had assumed but the problem is solvable without a surgery.”

“And the bad news?”

“Only you can fix it”.

For nearly two decades, I had a companion who kept me company 24x7. No, I am not talking anything spiritual – I am referring to my “smart” phone. What started twenty years ago as a simple phone that could do no more than making calls turned into a monster gadget that grew in smartness with each passing hour. Although I cannot say with certainty, I can make an educated guess that my personal smartness reduced at the same rate as that at which my smartphone’s increased.

In the early 2000’s, the (fortunately) high tariffs ensured that my phone usage was limited to a few minutes a day. As I moved up the corporate ladder, this perhaps increased to an hour. As I graduated to smart phones and social media usage kicked in, the usage probably increased to hours a day. With WhatsApp chats and calls thrown in, the phone likely became my companion 24x7. You can see that I am using very tentative words like “probably”, “perhaps”, “very likely”, “Assume” to describe the situation - not just to show my poor read of the progress - but to highlight how slowly, steadily and stealthily my companion grew in significance. Overtime (another tentative word), I had started to rely so much on my smartphone that a few unusual things started happening:

1. I communicated with everyone including my wife more by WhatsApp than face-to-face.

2. Despite a good memory during the pre-phone era, I could not recall a single phone number or name without my phone.

3. I received all updates from my friends exclusively from Facebook posts. Birthday wishes and cakes were exchanged only on Facebook.

4. I could not IMAGINE being without my phone for even a minute. Be it bedtime, food time, bath time, TV time, relaxing time or work time, I could be seen fidgeting with my smartphone.

5. My companion became so much a part of my definition of “me” that when I took solitary breaks, it was assumed that smartphone would be with me.

6. I don’t recall too many faces during my conversations – fleetingly, I looked up from my smartphone to see their faces.

7. WhatsApp jokes were the sources of all entertainment - Laughs and guffaws were exchanged with my companion than with real people.

8. My smartphone was the last thing (or person if you like) I saw before going to bed and after waking up.

So what was the problem? In the same way that my phone became my 24x7 companion stealthily, I found that equally stealthily someone else had become my companion 24x7. Exactly like my phone, I could not make it when it did. I am referring to pain in body.

The relentless usage weakened my neck and trapezia muscles and reduced the gap between the bones of my cervical spine – at the same pace as the phone usage. Worse, excessive chats on WhatsApp developed Repetitive strain injury in my fingers. My eyes atrophied due to excessive staring at the phone. Before long, chronic pain in the parts listed above became my companion. I don’t know if these are the only parts affected – although these were the more painful ones. (If there were more, the pain in those parts was lower than the threshold required for me to notice). For last five years, I never recall having woken up without pain of varying degrees in some part of my body.

Years of visits to the doctor and chiropractor, medicines, traction, massages, exercises helped only marginally. I grudgingly started to accept pain as my perpetual companion. More tests followed. And then the December 2017 visit happened. I stared blankly at Sush – but he left leaving one image in front of me: 

Something happened to me that last week of December 2017. I decided enough was enough. I had to act – before my ability to act was lost.

On January 1 2018, I deleted most social media apps on my phone. I brought my time on Whatsapp (a professional need) down to 5 minutes a day. I stopped taking my phone during my morning walk. I told people to talk to me face-to-face to the extent possible (That request - coming from a phone addict like me - made several of my acquaintances wonder whether my brain was affected). I measured my time on the phone - Call duration was reduced from hours a day to minutes a day. ALL late night calls (personal and professional) were eliminated – some by brute force. Meditation became the last ritual before sleep and the first after getting up.

Cut a long story short, exactly a month after my surgical actions (actions that cost me nothing), here are the results:

1. Pain in parts of the body I referred to above (and others that might have been ignored) was gone.

2. My energy levels shot up enormously.

3. For a busy executive like me, I found myself with a lore more free time than I could handle. I rarely found myself saying “I am busy, I am tied up, There is too much on my plate etc”

4. I wake up fresh each morning.

5. My memory improved mysteriously, and I acknowledge the presence of people around me – looking them in the eye.

6. And the most surprising of all, my poor relationship with my phone resulted in drastically improved relationships with my family.

For years, I wondered whether a mobile phone is a boon or a bane? Reflecting on my story, this is what I learnt: 
Every technology innovation, including a mobile phone, is like electricity. Used correctly, it can light up your life. Used incorrectly, it can cause a shock. Electricity needs physical insulation to prevent a shock. For a mobile phone, you are your problem and your own insulation.   
Source: This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Raja Jamalamadaka  

No comments: