It’s true. It’s time to admit I am falling out of love with my smartphone. We’re not getting divorced but we are on a break. It’s become an unequal relationship. I give it my time and all it does is take.
I’ve had a smartphone for 9 years now. It was an aspirational purchase. I used to have a PDA for work. I could sit in meetings (I was a local government reporter), write my stories and email them directly to the newsdesk. It was amazing! No more days spent in meetings and then going home to spend the evening clearing my notebook. Nowadays of course I would live-tweet.
Buying a smartphone was a huge investment. The idea then of walking around with something worth more than ?400 in my pocket was terrifying at first. But at the time it felt like magic! I could do everything on one device: email, Facebook, maps, messaging, research. I’ve even used it to study university courses.
But increasingly I’ve come to feel that I spend far too long on my phone. I fall into the internet wormhole too easily. Yesterday I read articles on content marketing and Google analytics. I even read a sample of a book I ordered on Amazon. All very interesting but not on my task list (certainly not a Must or Should) and so not what I should have been doing. One of my 12 Week Goals is to get fit and I struggle to find just 30 minutes a day to exercise. Yet I can spend hours reading on the internet.
There have been a few articles about digital detoxing recently. I read one a couple of weeks ago in which the author mentioned installing an app on their phone which told them how many times a day they had checked it and how long they spent using it. The idea filled me with dread. And then I thought: “if I’m afraid of the answer, shouldn’t I do this?”
This morning I read an article Sali Hughes wrote for The Pool on how her smartphone use had taken its toll on her health. In it she mentioned a book which described the way in which constant notifications train our brains like lab rats, unleashing a dopamine hit every time we click. It was the tipping point I needed. I am not a lab rat.?Mr Zuckerberg is stealing my life and it’s time to take back control.
I couldn’t use the same app Sali has for limiting her smartphone use as I use an Android phone so I headed to the Google Play store. After a?bit of research (I couldn’t find an app which did exactly what I wanted) I settled on one called Space. This allows you to block notifications for set periods of time or use the ‘focus time’ button to pause them while you get on with things. The feeling of space and clarity from not constantly wondering about notifications and whether I had missed something was immediate.
I set the focus button immediately and got on with my day. When I checked it later I had 16 notifications. If I had clicked each time my phone buzzed I would probably have wasted at least 10 minutes as one included an email subscription I read every day. But it’s not just the time wasted, it’s the interruption to what you were doing and getting back into it again. All those lost thoughts.
I looked at Facebook and Twitter, none of them were telling me anything urgent or important. I hit the focus button again and we went out. I put my phone in my bag and didn’t think about it. When I got home three hours later, I checked Space again. Now I had missed a total of 34 notifications.
“What if you need to check your notifications?” My husband asked. It’s a fair point. Social media is part of my job and I stay in contact with clients through various apps like WhatsApp, Slack and Trello. “It’s ok, I’ll get them on my laptop,” I said. Hmm… I’ve lost notifications on my phone but what if I just switch to having the sites open on my desktop?? My solution was to add a Chrome extension, StayFocusd, which allows you to block certain sites. During work time, my time on Twitter and Facebook will be limited to just 10 minutes.
I’m fascinated to find out how much time I am spending or saving and more interested to know whether I will find the holy grail of 30 minutes to exercise each day. Whatever the outcome, I have no doubt it’s going to be better for my mental health.
- Rachel Extance?is a communications consultant.?She uses stories to help businesses get their message across.