I hate to say my cell phone is the most useful tool I own. It’s been a contentious presence since it started penetrating almost every aspect of my life. I was one of those people that held out on getting a smartphone until 2012–five years after the first iPhone was released. Now, it’s so entrenched in my daily life I feel naked, anxious and stressed when it’s not close to me–something I’d hoped to avoid all along. Joke’s on me.
This thin black brick is my camera, my connection to friends and family, my weather tracker and my learning tool. It was the mechanism for relationship breakups, an exchange forum for gibberish verbal diarrhea, and the device that told me whether I got a job or not after an interview. It’s also an evil source of contempt for feeling ignored during countless meals. I’m pretty sure it has a thousand more features I probably don’t know about.
Daily stuff aside, my cell phone has also been a mixed tool for my creativity. I cannot deny that it’s served me well for activities I didn’t think I could complete with ease and efficiency. So I think it’s only fair I highlight the good and bad.
So…how exactly has my cell phone worked with my creativity? Here are the good and bad.
Good: Emojis are helpful because I can find an expression to convey how I feel when I’m at a loss on how to react during texting.
Bad: Emojis have made me lazy about finding the right words. Extra shameful for a writer. I’m convinced our vocabularies are shrinking because of these modern-day hieroglyphics.
Good: Texting is an easy way of communicating without the hassle of a full-blown conversation which can take up time and energy.
Bad: Texting has cut our verbal conversations significantly. I feel I’m losing the art of curating the right tone when I talk to people, which is what actually makes us effective communicators.
Good: I’m a crappier-than-normal photographer; my fancy Samsung Android has made my many snaps prettier. The camera has been a powerful tool to not only experiment to figure out what kind of artist I am but enhance the message I want to send to the world.
Bad: Photo filters reduce my motivation to find the right light and composition. When I can’t get a shot right, instead of trying to get a better one, I just resort to using the editing tools.
Good: It’s easier than ever to capture a moment. Seeing a live video can be inspiring and a way to connect with anyone around the world. Creative juices run when you’re present and in flow.
Bad: Ever experienced a new place through a screen without using your own fabulous eyes in 3D? How many of us felt like we weren’t really there and only remember seeing through the tiny cell phone screen? One of the most talented photographers I met told me he never took photos when scoping out a location for the first time. He needed to get a feel for the place before picking up his camera. We need to be more like him.
Good: My phone helped me discover obscure places when I travelled (thank you Google maps). Case in point: once while walking the streets in Atlanta I saw an art space hidden from visibility, which turned out to be a wonderful glass-blowing studio.
Bad: Google Maps is also a culprit for giving me tunnel vision when I need to put it away and find exciting things on my own through serendipity.
Good: Music. Little Mix’s Cut You Off instantly transports me to the streets of Old San Juan. Listening to songs when I explore a new city is an effective memory tool, my flaneur-ing tool. I build strong memories through this practice.
Bad: My headphones send a signal I am closed off. I also lose out on the sounds of a new place and miss inviting music from a venue as I pass it.
Good: My phone is an alarm, which signals it’s time to wake up and start my day. If I’m well-rested, the meditation app I play clears my head, opening myself up to possibilities. Do I go to a museum? Take photos at the beach? Try the new crazy-expensive hair tool I just bought. Sometimes I’m also grateful it interrupts a bad dream.
Bad: The blaring alarm signals my anxious thoughts of the day are due to begin. I spend the rest of the day trying to overcome creative resistance.
Dealing With the World (or Not)
Good: My phone was my shield when I witnessed uncomfortable confrontations. I clutched it when I knew I had been stood up in a popular bar on a first date. And I looked down at it when a mentally ill person on the subway was yelling at me on the streetcar.
Bad: I can be so engrossed looking at my phone I miss the chance to interact with people, eliminating the possibility of making new, fruitful connections.
Good: When I’m sad, I look at videos of my niece and nephew on my phone, to feel connected to my family. I thrive in solitude but I’m still human and experience loneliness occasionally.
Bad: Some old photos keep me stuck in the past. When I look back, I feel like I can’t move forward to discover the new. Sometimes I ruminate about old wounds which bleed into my creative work (I can only write about an old love story so many times). I end up recycling the same creative concepts because they’re familiar. Not a good headspace when you want to progress.
Good: Platforms like Pinterest have been a great source of creativity and inspiration. I discovered delicious recipes I would have never come up with on my own (who would have thought you could make an apple cinnamon smoothie?!), found small businesses that sold beautiful unique shoes, and conjured ways to furnish my studio apartment for cheap. Creativity is at my fingertips while I’m on the train or waiting at the doctor’s office.
Bad: While I’m on the train or waiting at the doctor’s office is when I’m bored–and sometimes the best ideas come to you when your mind isn’t busy staring at a screen. So, while I revel in other people’s creativity online, I’m not creating the open mental space to practice my own.
Final Thoughts on my Cell Phone
Personally, if I could get away with not having a cell phone I would chuck it and/or look at it once a day. But in our increasingly online world, it’s becoming more difficult.
I’ve resolved to be more intentional about when and where to use it. I look at the weekly digital report my phone sends me, indicating what’s sucking up my time, which has been very useful. From there I can gauge, measure and adjust my usage. After all, a cell phone is just a tool–not an actual way of life.
What’s your relationship with your cell phone like? Let me know in the comments below!