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Finding a third way to address smartphone addiction

Dave Danielson @ddanielson has a good post on the choices presented by a lot of writing about smartphone use:

The choice of device is not an all or nothing proposition, but is often presented that way. We can choose our own level of engagement with a device, and govern our behavior to use a device as we choose.

This is also useful to think about in the context of the NYT article on Luddite teens shared by Patrick Rhone. In it, the teenagers consider their choice to live without a smartphone—or at least to live with reduced use of a smartphone—in terms of class and wealth.

I could not be more sympathetic to people wanting to eliminate smartphones from their lives. I love videos and posts like these from Terry Grier and Anna Havron on their experience moving to flip phones. I have often considered doing it myself.

But there are some practical barriers for me. There are certain smartphone apps that make it easier to do my job. I also have a teenager that is a few months from driving on her own and, even though I started driving well before the advent of smartphones and my parents lived through it, I do appreciate the ability to know if she has arrived at her destination. I could go on listing a few smartphone features that feel very important but you get the gist.

This is where binary thinking fails us. (To be clear, I’m not saying anyone who has made the switch to a flip phone is thinking in a binary way. They have made a choice but that does not imply they saw it as a binary choice.) Binary thinking is always dangerous but it feels like a particularly besetting sin of our age, especially here in America. For this reason alone, any choice presented as binary should sound your alarms.

Binary thinking is fundamentalist thinking—achieving the illusion of simplicity by reducing the irreducible complexity of life. If you can find a way to live without a smartphone, no one will admire you more than me. But if you, like me, are in a position where eliminating a smartphone is difficult, that does not mean you should abandon yourself to tapping like some addled rhesus monkey.

Finding a third way is as difficult and complex as the way of abstention. (The only easy way is to give in to the addiction.) Whatever way you find to recover from smartphone addiction, you are part of the necessary healing.

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