a peek inside the fishbowl

21 Jul, 2020

Examining my relationship with my phone

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Yaktivism

Today I did two loads of laundry and made an excellent pot of broccoli cheddar soup using some soft vegetables I found languishing in the back of the crisper. I walked to the grocery store and will be slapping together a dinner at some point. That’s about all that I have the energy for today.

We are back from camping. Once again, we survived unscathed and without major injury (e.g. burns, bear attacks, poison ivy) and even had Fun. I will write more about that in a subsequent post but today, I wanted to write about something I did differently during our camping trip this year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the luxury of time. How lovely and special it is to lie on a beach, jump in the lake to go for a swim, and think about nothing but my novel as I dry off in the sun. So this time around, while we were away, I put my iPhone away, like, completely away, in the glove compartment.

If you know me at all you know this is kind of a Big Deal.

It’s not like I went totally cold turkey, it was the next logical step in a continuum. My semi-unplanned social media sabbatical actually began a few weeks before we left for our camping trip. I dropped my iPhone and smashed the screen. Sidebar: it happened while I was jumping along a hopscotch grid someone had drawn in my neighbourhood. I jumped and my phone jumped along with me… out of my pocket and facedown on the pavement. Ugh. Later, it just stopped working. So I switched sim cards with our eldest daughter’s older model and started using that instead. Since I was starting from scratch I was selective about which apps I reinstalled, so I decided to bring it back to basics.

This phone now has no email app on it (!), no Facebook, no iMessenger.

I also moved two other attention stealing apps to the last “page” on my iPhone so they are not as easy to access. I’ve reserved the home screen for specific tools I use most frequently. I also changed my background to greyscale. Nothing fun here, Andrea! Move along!

I’ve also turned off most notifications.

Also worth noting is that my phone’s battery doesn’t hold a good charge anymore, but I’ve been delaying a replacement for now since it’s contrary to my purpose of using it less. When it’s away from sight, on the charger, I’m much less likely to pick it up.

As you can imagine, this has all seriously altered the way I use the thing. It is now more of a communications tool, and not a pocket-sized portal to a never ending stream of entertainment.

My goal is to get down to checking my email once a day on my desktop computer in my home office. Facebook/iMessenger is there too, waiting for me if I want to check it. I do, but not nearly as often. If people want to reach me, those who have my phone number can call it. We also still have our landline, although we switched to VOIP awhile ago to save $$.

Honestly, I didn’t really miss my phone while I was camping. It helped that I was happily occupied with a stack of books, my DSLR camera, and my notebook. Many times, I just caught myself staring into the trees, not really thinking anything at all. I imagined my brain as a marathon runner who finally got a chance to sit down, kick of its shoes and knock back a protein shake. Ah, relief!

Now, when I pick up my phone I quickly run out of things to do. So I put it down, and go back to regularly scheduled programming. I can’t tell you how many books I read this week. (Ok, four and a half.)

If I think about why I’m taking these steps, it’s because I want to be more present in my own life. I want my time back! I don’t want to miss things. I want stronger/better relationships with the people close to me. I want people to look at me when I’m talking, so shouldn’t I do the same in return?

It surprisingly nice to shed myself of those FOMO-shaped handcuffs and voluntarily step out of the loop. To not be a slave to this sleek object that fits so nicely in my hand, feels… familiar and nice. I’ve missed this feeling. The feeling of prioritizing other things in my life.

My time spent on social media (and I’m talking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) has traditionally been spent creating and consuming information, but also mindlessly scrolling content I’d already seen, or checking back on older posts and stats. Now that I’m thinking about it, I realize there’s an additional category of time aside from the creating/consuming loop that’s reserved for stressing about how/when/where I can charge my phone (which would have been a greater issue out in the woods ) or worrying about where I left it. How many times have I patted my rear end, checking to make sure it’s there? While we were camping, I knew my phone was safe in the glove compartment so I wasn’t wasting time wondering. (One of my worst fears is dropping my phone in a privy so there’s that.)

By moving and removing certain apps I’ve turned by phone back to what I want it to be, a tool that I use, not one that uses me. It is liberating.

The Happiness Lab has an excellent podcast on this topic if you’re interested: Dial D for Distracted. There was a discussion about an idea I really liked, and it’s to run through a quick list of questions when you reach for your phone: What for? Why now? What else? In other words, for what reason are you picking up your phone? Why are you picking it up now? What else can you be doing? It’s something to think about, anyway.

4 Responses to "Examining my relationship with my phone"

1 | Nicole MacPherson

July 22nd, 2020 at 7:46 am


I love this. I used to give myself a few days off of social media a week, but since the pandemic I haven’t really. I think I’m going to institute it, as well as the what for, why now, what else questions. Thank you!

2 | Melissa

July 22nd, 2020 at 7:49 am


I’m horrified when I get the weekly reports of how much screen time I average in a day! My husband used to tell me I was “addicted to that thing” and I would defend myself saying I had to be “monitoring” as part of my job. But I’m not getting paid to “monitor” outside work hours and I really need to be more productive with my time. I’m going to work a little harder at that!

3 | Essox

July 22nd, 2020 at 2:54 pm


I keep thinking about this.

What if we are all blocking great ideas and introspection because we keep filling our attention and downtime with useless *filler*? Not real passionate interesting caring lives but…100% filler. ?

4 | Sarah

July 24th, 2020 at 1:59 pm


I don’t have a cell phone and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to operate in this technology-driven world; however, I can’t really justify getting one. I don’t need it for work (if I did, I’d expect them to pay for it), my husband works at a job where I can’t reach him by cell during the day, and my son is still young. He wants a cell phone or video game console, but he’s so much more creative without one: he fills his time with books, playing LEGO, and drawing. I worry that these activities wouldn’t be able to compete with a gadget.

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  • Sally Dowe Marchand: Thanks for sharing your camping adventures. It looks so beautiful and peaceful.
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  • MaryAnn: Bravo and good for you to get out. It is very weird and fun going to places. I get and like your observation that we should just treat going out like
  • andrea tomkins: That's a great idea! I do that too sometimes, but it takes awhile to come back to room temperature so I have to factor in a few hours for that... :)
  • Elizabeth Peters: I make it a day ahead and refrigerate. This way I can pull it out after work and let it come to room temperature.
  • Elizabeth Peters: This has been my go to recipe since I discovered it back in 2013! Sometimes if I'm feeling fancy, I'll add seasoning to the dough!
  • Wanda: Thank you for sharing your inner dialogue. I must admit that I have become nervous about social interaction. It is an awful realization because I alwa

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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