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January 12, 2013

A smartphone junkie's life is a daily struggle

(Continued)

My phone let me reach out via emails, photos and social media to break the isolation of my long winter’s maternity leave. It gave me something besides the wall to stare at during 2 a.m. feedings, and, I’ll admit it, something bright and shiny to distract my girl during difficult diaper changes.

I was hooked, mainlining data like a fiend. And now I’m one of them —the phone addicts. I take my phone to bed with me, and reach for it reflexively like a smoker reaching for a cigarette when I wake up. I get twitchy if I leave the house — heck, if I leave the room — without it.

They say the first step toward breaking an addiction is admitting you have a problem. And sometimes I think I do. But being addicted to my phone feels like being addicted to oxygen. Sure, it feels like I couldn’t live without it, but is it an addiction when everyone else is doing it too? Or is this just what 21st century life looks like?

My phone and I are at a turning point, though, and I need to make a decision. I’ve read the statistics about where all this leads, and it’s sobering stuff. “Too much screen time means health decline,” an ABC News story from 2011 proclaims. “Cellphone use linked to selfish behavior,” a University of Maryland Business School study finds. The list goes on and on.

Do I want my daughter to grow up with a mom who’s always got one eye on a screen? Not for a minute. So I am taking steps to break the habit.

I’m not going to go cold turkey — I think the withdrawal would be too tough to bear. But I think I can taper off. I’ve been reading about some of the tactics health experts suggest for quitting smoking, like forcing yourself to delay a craving, or avoiding “trigger situations.”

I don’t think chewing gum will help me fight the urge to check my Facebook. But who knows? At this point, I’ll try anything. And with any luck, I can work my way back to using my phone responsibly.

Emily F. Popek is assistant editor at The Daily Star. She can be reached at 432-1000, ext. 217, or epopek@thedailystar.com.

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