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The smartphone wall
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 20 - 02 - 2017

Many articles, studies and investigations on the danger on smartphone addiction, especially to children, abound. The warnings, of course, include the electronic tablet devices to which children are sadly glued. Despite repeated warnings against the excessive use of smartphones and other e-devices and its negative impact on social life, people still pay little heed to the admonitions and stick to their devices such that sometimes the devices seem more dearer than life.
The smartphone or other e-device is turning into a veritable magnet, drawing one and all to its domain and cementing them within its aura with a simple touch. From then on the person's world revolves around this magical handset or unit that makes people do everything but talk to one another. We are glued to these devices so much that sometimes we forget to talk. We always want to check our emails, messages, news, or simply want to play games. And that's the sticking point, for it seems like there is no cure to this magnetism.
I remember writing opinion articles in the past, touching on this matter. However, I was made to revisit this subject by my friend, who finally found the courage to cure him of the magnetic lure of these devices with a simple act. He simply got smart by getting rid of the smartphone and used a simple device to talk to his family and friends. His story is the one I'm sharing with you'll today.
Like in any weekend gathering of friends, it has become a common practice that people space out and venture into their cyber world using their smart phones, while intermittently conversing. Sometimes these gatherings would be like a meditating group, shrouded with silence excepting the sounds of the touch-typing and whoosh or singular sounds of the sending or receiving of the messages, only for the one who has finished his dance with the phone to trigger a new stream in the conversation. The toing and froing from phone to conversation would be the tenor of the gathering till many remember another session and again play with their phones at a different venue.
This time round, with more than ten friends at the gathering, I noticed that this particular friend was the only one who was talking and engaging in all the discussions fervently and in all this he never held his smartphone. Unlike him, my friends and I were taking every chance to engage in our smartphones checking all sorts of social network applications, emails and news. But this friend, like I said, wasn't.
It was after a while when he criticized all of us by saying we are prisoners to our smartphones that we all started and sheepishly put away our devices. He took out an old simple cell phone, not smartphone, saying that he got rid of what he described as a "sickness" by switching devises. From that point onward, the topic changed into how he did it.
He said the break has to swift and sudden, like the severing of the umbilical cord. If that doesn't happen then slipping back to the old practice of traveling constantly in the cyber superhighway is just a matter of time. To him the break was a painful experience but he got used to it. I remember him saying, «I have a phone that was built to be used as a phone only and that changed me.»
The friend also said that simple change has brought about a phenomenal shift in his life. He said he used to be a stranger to his parents and felt that he had built a big wall between himself and his children and wife. Instead of talking to them, he used whatever free time he had to dive into the virtual world. According to him he was constantly disoriented when he was in a gathering and somehow lost his ability to communicate properly with others.
It reached a level where his parents openly objected to his new behavior of spacing out while with them. His mother chastised him for looking at the phone more than at her and was berated for not communicating. He said, she urged him to be his own self, the one he was before he had become addicted to his smartphone. Searching for a surgical solution, he found no better way then to throw away the smartphone and buy an old phone that has no other features but attend phone calls and messages.
The experience, he told us, was a torture at the beginning. He nearly lost his mind in the early days when the withdrawal symptoms of not having a smartphone were at its height. "Each time I wanted to check my social media application, I could not, and at the same time when I wanted to check news online I was stymied. It was slowly that I realized that cell phones are tools and not a way of life. I came to the realization and conclusion that someone could indeed survive without a smartphone."
He said soon he returned to his old habits of reading books, spending quality time with his children when they were with him and socialize with his friends fully at the weekend gatherings. He jokingly said that he even endured his father's sarcasm when he said: "Finally my son has learned to speak."
The ones who can balance the use of smartphones and never let it impinge on the persons' quality time with their children and family are truly lucky. Sadly smartphones have taught us how to communicate less and best of all, stay silent with the ones we love. There are those who have developed an addiction to the smartphones that's akin to drug addiction — they cannot stay away from it and should always have it — especially teens and children. Studies, however, have proven that it is not advisable to let children spend more than two hours in front of screens playing games or with smartphones and other tablets.
It is indeed a proven fact that it is dangerous to use phones while driving. These days we add to it, using it while walking. I have seen many clips, and also with my own eyes, people bang into doors, trip or even slip on wet floors while walking and using smartphones. This is because their eyes are glued to their phones and not at their surroundings. It is now dangerous to use smartphones while walking on the sidewalk or while crossing the road.
For those who seek a balance while using their smartphones can use these tips from (psychguides.com). Make rules for yourself concerning your phone usage. Set time periods in which you shouldn't use your phone (i.e., 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.). Designate activities in which your phone is forbidden (e.g., driving, dinner time). Schedule break times to access your phone or social media. If this is too difficult, then go surgical and get an old cell phone that is not smart at all, like my friend did, and life will change.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]
Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng

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