Do you really need your smartphone?


by ADAM EARNHEARDT

acearnheardt@ysu.edu

When I walked into the living room, throw pillows were on the floor, furniture was overturned and an area rug was pulled up on one side.

Had it not been for my youngest kid sitting quietly in the next room, I’d have assumed we were being robbed.

Instead, a small curly-hair head peeked over the upended couch with a wry smile, “Oh, hi Dad.”

My soon-to-be 12-year-old daughter was on the hunt for what I assumed was something very precious: her smartphone.

I was right. But what she said next is what really surprised me.

“When did you lose it,” I asked.

“A few days ago, I think. I don’t remember,” she replied.

A few days ago?! How can you not remember?!

I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I joined in the hunt, half-smiling to myself that my pre-teen daughter could be without her phone for such a long period without going into some deep depression or panic.

I mean, don’t we all freak out a little when we lose our phones? They’re attached to our bodies on a near constant basis. I don’t even put mine in my pocket much anymore.

It’s part of my hand. To borrow a line from the great media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, my phone is, in many ways, an extension of my arm.

So, losing my phone should be akin to cutting off my hand. Now I realize how ridiculous that may sound to some of you. But I assure you there are others who read this and say, “Yep, that’s exactly how I would feel.”

For my daughter, losing her phone, “felt kind of good,” and being disconnected from the world was liberating. That disconnection she felt was an opportunity to be connected to something or someone else.

I went to Facebook a few weeks ago and asked my friends, “How many of you have lost your phones and, instead of going into a deep panic, said, ‘awww, [forget] it, I didn’t need it anyway?’”

Evenly split between those who said they would freak out and those who would welcome the break, one friend calmly messaged me to say, “I just read this on my laptop and panicked for a second. I had to check my purse to make sure I had my phone. LOL!”

Others were far less concerned. “I did that at work the other day,” my friend Jaietta noted in a post. “I figured it was at home. But it was really freeing to not be tethered to it.”

My daughter found her phone. Turns out our youngest daughter hid it in a mound of blankets as a (very lengthy and ineffective) prank. What I found is that my pre-teen daughter has a potentially lucrative future career in teaching tech-loss coping skills.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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