Phone Possessiveness


Would you let someone use your mobile phone to make a call? How about to surf the internet? Or send a text message or email? Just how private or controlling are you over your mobile phone?

The problem is that phones have become personalised. I sound about 200 years old here, but I am old enough to remember when any household had within it just a single phone line that everyone – parents, kids, guests – used, and when others at home at the time of the phone call could (and often would) listen in on your private phone call by picking up a receiver in another room. Today’s teens would be horrified at the thought, as I was when I caught someone, despite also being guilty of listening in nosily to family gossip from my aunties, boyfriend stories from my friends older sisters and childhood bitchiness from a “friend” who didn’t know you were with a mutual “friend” who was committing enticement in leading them into talking about you. A bitchy precursor for what to come in the teen years! Dreadful, isn’t it?!

But I digress. My point is… now everybody has their own phone and thankfully calls are relatively speaking very private affairs.

We personalise our phones in so many ways. You choose the brand, size, colour, your apps, your decorative case, your screen wallpaper, the ringtones for different people. We’ve become very possessive of our phones because we have personalised them in so many ways.

Of course we’re possessive of many of our things – I suppose that’s the very reason we call the items we own our “possessions”.

Over a century ago, prior to the era of even landline phones, William James surmised that one’s self includes anything to which the label ‘my’ can be and is applied to. For example, my clothes, my house, my job, my family, my boyfriend.

Some of these are obviously and understandably more crucial and pivotal in relation to our “self” than others, but on the occasion that any one of these aforementioned “self” items are harmed are endangered, our sense of self is hurt or damaged.

If there is theft of an item or element important or crucial to your self-understanding, it feels strongly and sometimes overwhelmingly as though you have been deeply injured and that you’ve lost part of you, often feeling like the damage is irreparable or never ending – especially in things like the loss of “my” boyfriend or husband.

Some of these feelings are actually reflected in our usage of some objects used to interact with the world we inhabit.

But some of the feelings relating to “self” also reflect our choosing certain objects as expressions of who and what we are, as status symbols. We have all defined ourselves by objects in our possession but people have done so for as long as they’ve collected objects. You’ll probably say that’s not you. But it is. Objects include clothes. And you’ve got more than one outfit, more than one pair of shoes and the like. Why? You only need one pair of shoes? After that the need to be shod is over, unless you want to be defined in a certain way by onlookers… and we all do.

The mobile phone is patently now a huge part of how people interact with the people around them and the wider world. For countless people, their social life depends on their mobile phone. I often wonder how people organised a social life before mobiles. People must have just been more reliable, since there was no option for updating a friend to a change of time, location and other commonplace plan alteration of the present day. We connect with others through our phones in so many ways. Because of this, for so many of us, our actual identities are tied up in our phones, the internet, and social media. The phone has become part of who you and I are.

All of this brings me to a recent discovery I made of my own personality. As a friend and I were chatting about when, why and how people around us use their mobiles, my friend displayed obvious discomfort at the very thought of allowing someone else use their phone unsupervised for even a moment.

I laughed and judged privately before realising that I myself feel entirely the same. Sharing my phone is not an experience that I am comfortable with. If it really needs to happen, I will personally set everything up so this other person using it can make a phone call or look at a website. I don’t give them free reign.

I can’t imagine allowing any person out of my line of vision during the website viewing session and I’d have my eye on their fingers, checking they weren’t wandering to my messages. It just feels incredibly personal, too private, and too intimate to let someone have control over my mobile.

I don’t want my search history seen or judged, my weird screenshots or photos on everything including myself to be viewed by anyone other than me.

My friend is more affected by the thought of phone sharing. “No.” That’s what she’d tell someone who asked for hers. She would prefer to not ever be asked and would actively avoid a friend or workmate in the vicinity whose mobile had died or was low on battery, just so she wouldn’t be in the asking line should that person require use of the Internet or a need to make a call.

Our generation and the younger generation post wildly about the private details of our lives. I don’t think I do but I’m sure older generations may disagree. After all I am blogging my thoughts and opinions, which is over sharing and ridiculous in itself! But we are also a generation who don’t want anyone to touch our mobiles. 

Although these seem strangely contradictory, it may actually be part and parcel of the same issue. We need and want right control over ourselves. We edit and curate our Instagram feeds, question what to post for significant periods of time before putting our images and thoughts out there for all to see. Our phones are now so integral to the self, that it feels like a massive and wholly unwelcome invasion for another person to touch our phone, no matter how close that person.

In many respects, we never truly outgrow our childhood sense of possessiveness. The possessiveness over phones is just a grown up version of “this is my toy and you’re not allowed to touch it.”

It’s interesting to look at what items in your own adult “toy box” result in such a tight sense of ownership within you. Which items are of extreme importance to the your sense of self?

I would happily let someone drive my car whilst I was on holiday for example but my car loving friend wouldn’t loan their car to someone for all the tea in china.

You might feel uncomfortable having a friend or family member stay in your house and sleep in your bed when you’re out of town, while others will joyfully hand over the keys, not thinking twice or even once about the prospect of the short term tenant rifling through the drawers.

Where would you personally draw the proverbial line of what is a critical part of your own sense of self?

For me, the self includes my mobile phone. Obviously for me, my phone is more than a toy. So much of my life is stored and embedded within my apple device. My phone is the holding bay for my pictures, my friends, my plans, my passwords, my calendar, my diary (I use notes), practically my entire life is stored in my phone. Loaning my phone is a practically too personal and intimate to contemplate for my friend, but I’m not as far behind her in this possessiveness as I would like. 

I’m aware of this now and going to work on it but I imagine it’s going to be a hard nut to crack. So if your battery dies and you need to borrow another, you probably don’t want to ask for mine.