Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An Open Letter to My iPhone

Dear iPhone,

I have some good news and some bad.  

Let's start with the good news.  When I first bought you, I was just beginning medical school, and you were a savior in many ways.  I was struggling through a tough break-up, and I struggled to keep my mind off of my ex-girlfriend.  I became anxious, and I began biting my nails and nibbling on my knuckles far more than usual.  You gave me 24/7 access to a world of information and multi-media incomparable to any piece of technology that I've ever fully incorporated into my life, and this access served as a wonderful distraction from the pain.  

Your functionality also enabled me to become more productive than I ever thought possible.  In college, I managed a 19-credit course load, triathlon training, and a non-profit that I had started in Malawi. Would you believe that I did this using just a flip phone?!  I managed to get a lot done back then, but you, iPhone, have helped me pack even MORE into my day.  I didn't think it was possible, but your push notifications ensured that every waking moment of my life in medical school was an opportunity to do something productive.  

For this, I will always be grateful, iPhone.  Medical school demanded a lot of busy work, and you kept me on track.  As a medical student, neurology rounds with the stroke team were extremely boring and long - sometimes up to six hours -, but I could always rely on you when my attention started to drift.  Likewise, while studying for boards, I fared quite well because you enabled me to review practice questions anywhere at any time.  Seriously - lifesaver status with that one!   

But your virtues are also implicit in the bad news.  While out for beers with friends, I would periodically check my inbox for email updates.  While waiting at a stoplight, I was preoccupied with checking to see if anybody "Liked" my most recent photo upload to Facebook.  On the rare occasion that I was at home with my parents, I felt compelled to check to see if I had any new Twitter followers.  Why not simply enjoy the company of my parents?  After all, they won't be around forever.  The problem is that whenever you're in reach I simply can't help myself, iPhone.  With you, I've developed the need for instant information.

Since I've trained my eyes and thumbs to communicate efficiently through your touch pad, you have become a perpetual source of distraction.  It's so easy to text, so why would I call my friends?  Bored by someone's story?  I bet there's something funny posted on Facebook. That awkward moment in an elevator with strangers?  iPhone to the rescue!  Even among co-workers or family members, I have felt compelled to turn to you, my mistress, to surf the web or respond to emails rather than talk to other human beings.  Even while I'm meditating, I think to myself..."by the time that that timer goes off, I'll probably have another email in my inbox!"  
Don't take this personally.  There are many fish in the sea, iPhone. There are dozens of cell phone users out there that are capable of defining parameters for their phone use.  Many people find it easy to leave their phones in the car when they go out to dinner with their significant other.  They can turn it off during their kid's soccer game.  They don't feel compelled to spend an extra 15 minutes on the toilet in order that they might glaze over a few more cat pictures on Instagram.  But I'm not one of those people.  You have a hold on me, and I need to break free.  I crave a return to sanity.  I want to appreciate quiet again.  I don't want to feel compelled to reach for you every time there is a lull in activity.  It's not you; it's me.  

The truth is, having access to information isn't enriching my life in ways that I had hoped.  It's making me anxious and distracting me from the important things in my life: sunshine, friends, and the taste of fresh ingredients at the dinner table.  I've become an egomaniac, allowing my attention to be driven by digital notifications.  It's as if the world revolves around me.  "Like" my photo! Comment on my post!  Yes, I'll accept your friend request, xAppleJacks43x!  I'm a slave to your screen, iPhone.

I might occasionally still need you to help me navigate difficult city streets, take high definition photos, or stream music while I'm writing or driving, but I need to limit our interactions to these occasional activities.  Would you believe that sometimes I have even imagined that I felt you vibrating in my pocket when, in fact, you had been silent?  Doctors tell me that I have "phantom vibration syndrome."  I'll google it for you., I shouldn't. me, I think we both need this.  I've noticed your battery has been overheating recently.  We clearly rely too much on one another.  

Oh, one more thing...I'm afraid to say that there's someone else.  Yes, she's a flip phone. She's perfect for me.  No bells and whistles...just basic phone programming.  Heck, she can't even send photos.   I know, I know...Evernote is nice, but I can just use a notepad and pen if I need to make a note of something.  I'm willing to put up with T9 texting and occasional poor reception in order to reprioritize my attention.   

I hope we can still be friends. 



Nathan Riley is a 2014 MD candidate at Temple University School of Medicine.  He writes about food, movement, sleep, relationships, and stress in order to bridge the gap between his patients and evolutionary theory and clinical evidence. You call follow him on Twitter @BeyondtheMD.  He can be reached at  You can also connect with him on Google+. 

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  1. Funny- I've made it this far without a smart phone, but as residency looms it seems inevitable that a smart phone is in my future.

    And "put up" with T9 texting? That is so superior to touch screen qwerty boards I can't even begin!

  2. Lovely blog. I had high school story for 2 weeks and uninstalled it because of how long it wants you to wait. But just like you Jenna, that next level song was catchy .. thanks!!
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