Late last year I came to the conclusion that I was addicted to my phone. Gosh, that’s a statement that would have made no sense fifteen or twenty years ago!
Earlier in the year a friend had shut down Facebook for three months because she was spending all her time there and not interacting with her family. Ironically, this is the same friend who insisted I sign up because I’d be left out of social events otherwise. At the end of the three months she reactivated her account. She said it didn’t make a lot of difference, as she had spent the time she used to waste on Facebook in other apps on her phone.
It seems like the phone is the problem, I thought.
After eye surgery, while I was sensitive to light, it became really obvious that I spend too much of my time looking at screens. I’d wake up and check my phone, get up and shower, look at my phone while eating breakfast, sit in front of the desktop computer, check my phone in every break, settle down at night to watch tv and check my phone during the ad breaks or if the show was boring, then go to bed and listen to podcasts, read on the phone and, most often, look at social media before going to sleep.
If I put my phone out of my reach at any of these times of day, I’d find myself reading for it without thinking. If I set it down next to me and told myself I wasn’t going to look, I’d find myself scrolling through Facebook minutes later.
That sounds like addiction to me.
Was this a bad thing? I loved my iPhone when I first got it. It replaced my watch, diary, Melways, notebook, book, torch, ipod Nano and camera. It connects me to the world and my friends. But was it having a detrimental effect, too? Like my friend, I tended to blame the apps for making me anxious or distracted. I hate the nervy feeling that I’ll lose friends and become dangerously uninformed if I don’t keep being a slave to social media.
So I decided to see what would happen if I cut back my phone usage. I decided to:
– charge my phone away from my bed
– remove Twitter, Instagram and Words With Friends from my phone
– leave my phone in the kitchen during the day, unless we go out
– during breaks I can check my phone, but I must spend as much time not looking at it
– go back to using analogue versions of a notebook, diary, and watch, and even books
After a few weeks I noted I was feeling calmer. I fall asleep faster and have had less and milder insomnia. When I wake in the morning I think about the day ahead and make plans, and don’t forget what they were so easily.
And the memory improvement was the most surprising. I realised that by stuffing phone use into all the little gaps of time between activities I wasn’t allowing my brain time to remember the small things. Letting it meander before sleep and rising, or during breaks, gives me time to not just recollect, but to see the big picture, rather than bouncing from one thing to another without an overall sense of priority. Also, my subconscious isn’t waking me up through the night to remind me about things I need to do as often as it used to.
I’ve also noticed that friends really do expect me to be checking the phone constantly. It’s not so much that they want answers to questions straight away, but that they leave decisions that might inconvenience me to the last moment, expecting that a Message will reach me instantly. Nobody rings when it’s urgent any more.
Another advantage of putting the phone out of reach is I’m not being constantly bombarded by advertising. Oh, such a relief!
Which has had me thinking… These new devices that you can talk to in your home… How long before they begin to chirp advertising at you? Because the ploy of social media was to get people to think they can’t live without it, then slowly introduce the ads. How long before your internet-connected kettle and washing machine are telling you what coffee or laundry powder to use?
Now there’s a nightmare of a future. Maybe I shouldn’t be spending all that extra time thinking!