A call for writers to switch off the smartphone

To preserve productivity and creativity (and sanity), the author advises taking control of screen time.


As with most good things in life, smartphone moderation is essential.

It takes effort to prevent these little devices from taking over our lives. According to a Pew Research Center report on how Americans use text messaging, 18- to 24-year-olds send or receive an average of 109.5 texts per day.

The average American adult now spends two hours and 51 minutes per day staring at a mobile phone screen, which adds up to about 86 hours a month. What impact is this having on our productivity?

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In a post headlined, “A Writer’s Greatest Tool: The Smartphone,” David Pierce, who appears to be in his early 20s, has this to say:

I’m a writer, and I don’t carry a notebook around with me. Heck, I don’t even carry a pen. Do people even use those anymore? Pens. So old school. Instead, I just use my cell phone. In my life as a writer, there’s been no tool more useful or worth the investment than a smartphone. I’m convinced that it’s a writer’s greatest tool.

Pierce cites five reasons for his affection for smartphones. He likes that they enable writers to:

  • Remember everything
  • Write when it strikes
  • Read
  • Get instant feedback
  • Never stop learning

Fair enough. Smartphones are handy, but their ubiquity in our lives is troubling. To David Pierce, and to all writers tethered to their smartphones, I ask:

  • When is it ever a good idea to write on a phone? The idea of using my fat thumbs to do anything more than send a quick text message to one of my kids makes me feel tired and nauseated. I can’t envision writing a blog post that way and certainly not any words for my next book. Ditto for editing. Why create that sort of headache for myself?
  • Why read on a phone? I always have a book with me, and when I’m wanting to be au courant (or if my purse is too full), I carry my Kindle.
  • Why do you need instant feedback? Now you’re just sounding impatient. I understand the benefits of Facebook and Twitter. I just don’t think anyone needs them 24/7—except perhaps the U.S. president.
  • Do you really have to be learning all the time? Continuing education is great, but we also need time to let our minds wander; it’s often during the mind-wandering times when creativity lightning strikes. If we’re constantly trying to stay connected and cram our brains full of information, we’ll never have the time or the space to think. Having something worthwhile to say takes thought. If we’re constantly creating or digesting, we don’t have time for that.

This is not to say you should give up your smartphone. Instead, we should all think more wisely about when and how we use our gadgets. Set times of the day when phones are off limits. (Mealtimes and writing times are good places to begin. Ditto for time with friends.) Hide it in a drawer if you must.

Make sure you have regular interactions with real people—not just avatars or digital handles. Get outside more often and exercise. Take time to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world. Sometimes, the best things you can do for your writing have nothing to do with writing whatsoever. Minimizing distraction is a great place to start.

A version of this post first appeared on Publication Coach.

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