Flip the page on the digital world

        Illustration by Anthony Lazon/The ETCetera

I got my first smartphone in 2015. Right away, I was hooked. At that time in my life I was a stay-at-home mom with a 1-year-old child and the caregiver for my 76-year-old mother. That phone became my link to the outside world.

I have never been into social media, but I am an information freak. My smartphone allows me to surf the internet for news and information about my latest interest. It also allows me to keep in regular contact with my sister, who lives in Honduras.

As much as I enjoy my smartphone, there are pitfalls that come with it. My daughter needs to tell me something, but I am busy doing research on my phone. I need to make supper, but I am tired after work and want to watch just one more YouTube video.

It seems that I am not alone in this behavior. A 2018 Pew Research study found that 51 percent of teenagers say their parent or caregiver is often or sometimes distracted by their phone while their teen is trying to talk with them.

Smartphones have become integrated into our society. For adults, they serve the dual purpose of a necessary tool for work and a source of entertainment. International Data Corporation, a technology market research firm, reported that 79 percent of adults who have smartphones keep them with them 22 hours a day.

So what can I do to be proactive and not allow my smartphone (or any mobile device) to take over my life? For me, the antidote is found in returning to the love of my childhood: reading books. 

It’s not hard to find studies that show overuse of mobile devices can cause a host of problems, including increased stress levels. This cannot be said for reading. A 2009 Sussex University study found that reading helps to reduce stress as much as 68 percent. 

When I read a book, I get wonderfully relaxed. I get pulled into a fascinating world that is unlike my own. I meet amazing characters that shatter my prejudices and challenge me to be my best.

As a child, I was an avid reader of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery books. I read them just for entertainment, but these books also helped me to develop an inquisitive mind. They taught me problem-solving skills.

My father encouraged me to read biographies. My favorite was “The Hiding Place,” written by Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom. Her book spoke to me about the power of forgiveness and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

The books I read refresh me and equip me for the struggles of real life.

I frequently read articles on my mobile phone, but I get distracted by incoming messages and alerts. To disconnect and rest my over-stimulated mind, I put my phone out of reach and read a real book.

During the month of August, I read the book “Rocket Men” by Robert Kurson. It is the account of the Apollo 8 mission and the men who first orbited the moon. It is a true story, but it reads like a novel.

It took me back to a time in history that I knew very little about. It expanded my knowledge of space travel and entertained me in the process. Best of all, during the two weeks or so that I read from the book every day, I spent far less time on my phone.

Now the school year has started, and I am checking my phone regularly for updates related to my studies. I can feel my stress level rising. My eyes blur from spending too much time looking at a screen.

But when I need a break, I know what to do. I put my phone out of reach for a while and grab a real book.

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