I spend waaaayyyyyy too much time staring at a screen these days. But then again, don’t most of us?

A recent conversation with a friend who spent time in Africa a while ago reminded me just how bad we Americans are. There was no cell service there and she was surprised how good it felt to shut her phone down and live without it for awhile. She observed that, even though many of the people she was meeting lead very difficult lives, there was no sign of depression or wishing for their lives to be different. If they needed water, they made the trek to the well to get it and bring it back. They didn’t think to feel frustrated and wish the water just came out of the tap.

Can we even imagine what it would be like to live without that single amenity to which we are so accustomed?

I have noticed before that if you don’t know what you don’t have, you don’t miss it, but we Americans are constantly bombarded with information about all the things that we are missing in our lives. Better car, better skin, better security system, better clothes, hair, food, pet food, the list is endless!

I may have shared the story before of my former grandmother-in-law, who told the story of getting her first electric stove some time after she was married. I asked her if she hated cooking on the wood-burning stove in the summertime, it must have been so hot, and she said that she didn’t know any different. She didn’t know to hate it.

As my friend and I talked about our phone attachment, she pointed out that iPhones have a Screen Time feature where you can check yourself to see how much time you are spending engaging with your phone. I already knew I spend too much time on it, but I decided to turn it on and see the details. I’m both sad and glad that I did.

I’m too embarrassed to go into the exact numbers, but suffice it to say that it was way worse than I even realized. It turns out the program will not only tell you how much time you spent on your phone, but how much time you spent on individual apps. It even breaks it down by categories it calls Social Networking, Games, Productivity and Creativity. Sadly, Social Networking was far more significant in my count than the other categories, and that is just wrong.

Through my nonprofit and marketing work, I manage numerous Facebook pages so, while I have considered closing down my account for a bit, it would seriously hinder my ability to address some things that I need to watch. I would like to say that a chunk of the Social Networking time that my phone credited me with in this initial experiment was for important customer or community work, but it really wasn’t.

If I wanted to get really depressed, I could connect it to my computer time, too, and see what activity that adds on. Maybe I will take that step later, especially knowing that it could help me with tracking my work time, but for now I need to process this little bit of information that shows that I spend a lot more time on my phone than I realized.

Another friend recently had to put his phone in the shop and seemed to thoroughly enjoy disconnecting for awhile, but it was a bit bothersome to those of us who wanted to reach him. It is amazing how often you can relay simple information or check in with people when you have a phone. I think it was easier for him to accept because the phone literally didn’t exist for him. Meanwhile, I would grab mine to tell him something and realize that it was a moot point, or a mute point as the case may be. I know his other friends and customers experienced it, too. Even he got tired of it after awhile, but I can definitely acknowledge that it would be nice to have an excuse to be unreachable for a time.

Those of us who are old enough to remember what adult life was like without a cell phone can think back on it as a simpler time. But it is funny to think that, when without a phone, life doesn’t necessarily feel simpler anymore, because we now know what we are missing and our lives will never be the same. Need to send a quick change of plans? Much simpler to do if you can just jot off a text. Want to document an activity with friends and share the photos? It’s very simple to take pictures with your phone rather than lugging around a camera, and you can share them in a multitude of ways.

So, what are we to do with this conundrum? I, for one, am going to remember to be grateful for the conveniences and luxuries that I have, but will start limiting the time that I spend using them. I’m going to start carrying around that book that I keep hoping to finish so that I can read it instead of looking at my phone when I find a minute alone. I think I’ll cut back the number of “Words with Friends” games that I try to maintain, though I enjoy the brain stimulation it provides so I won’t get rid of it completely. And, I’m going to keep tracking my screen time to see if I can significantly reduce it, and pay attention to more productive ways that I can fill that time.

I may miss out on a few details of my friend’s lives, but you can always text me if there is something important that I should know about. It’s time to start screening out the insignificant stuff and focusing on more important things in life. What will you do with your extra time?

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.