The bright light of technological optimism has dulled into the soft glare of a smartphone illuminating your room at night, soaking your eyes with blue light and leading to sleeping problems. These mini supercomputers in our pockets have changed the fabric of society, we can now keep in touch with loved ones that are continents away for free. The smug math teachers that once told us that we “won’t always have a calculator in your pocket” have been proven delightfully wrong. But all this connectivity has started to take its toll, less sleep, less engagement with our surroundings and -for some- full blown addiction issues. But with smartphones being so convenient for everything from booking cinema tickets to make sure they don’t sell out, to the joy of bursting out laughing to a podcast on a boring wait in the post office, it’s hard for us to disengage, but it’s time we had that discussion with ourselves to see how it can be done.
- Start small:
For some, the idea of cutting back might seem unnecessary, and if you think you’re not overly hooked and don’t need this article that’s great, but it’s worth quantifying your usage. Smartphone apps track how many times you pick up your phone, and time spent on each app. It might sound ridiculous to say “want to use your phone less? There’s an app for that”, but that’s the world we live in. Maybe you see that you use Instagram for 1hr30min a day but say “hey, that passes my boring commute” or you think “hmm, I could read a book, or just stare out the window and think”. Monitoring your use is definitely a positive step to reducing your screen time.
The next step is to group your apps, this simple step makes it that bit harder to click straight in when you unconsciously unlock your phone out of boredom, then set it to “do not disturb” so it doesn’t call out for attention. There are a few other tricks like this that range from the moderate to the “extreme”, and it’s best not to take on a massive challenge immediately. So, the first step is to make your phone boring, we don’t notice it ourselves, but developers know we’re entranced by the bright colours, excited by notifications and most importantly, craving stimulation. One way to reduce the effects of these is to turn off notifications on apps, the next step is to turn your phone to grayscale. Looking at a black and white screen is so unbelievably boring that you lose incentive to stare blankly into your screen. Any pictures will still be in colour when transferred to a computer or sent on social media, so you can use your phone as normal for its better features, it might also save some battery life.
- Reduce and minimise:
This one is a bit more difficult: delete, delete, delete. If you’re serious about cutting down, reduce your apps to just the essentials, do you use social media for work? Do you need to have it on your phone? Do I need 5 different apps to control my responsive LED party speakers? If you’re a student or office worker then you likely have constant access to the internet and can schedule in some e-errands. Book those concert tickets when you’ve completed another task, check your emails before you leave for home. These are all simple things that we used to do before everything became too easy for us. Deleting “convenient” apps allows us to maximise our time.
Now, the next step feels like a big one, smartphones have almost become an extension of our own bodies and can even cause anxiety when we’re away from them, particularly for younger people. So, it might seem uncomfortable at first to leave your phone in the kitchen, or somewhere out of sight at night time. This will help sleep but also ease attachment issues. Some of us rely on that morning dopamine hit we get from scrolling through news or social wake us up, and even take our phones with us to the bathroom in the morning. It’s a habit, and all habits can be broken with a bit of effort. It’s easier to do these things as a group, a few things you can do are to have a box or fishbowl where everyone in the family or household puts their phone when they come in the door until after dinner, or whenever else seems best. This might cause some fights in the house with teenagers, but will give everyone more time together which will be looked back on fondly later. Couples can also agree to call instead of text each other, some things can be organized in a quick 40 second phone call rather than dragged over 10 minutes worth of texting, waiting, replying, repeat!
This advice tracks mostly the practical techniques you can use to free up more time and use your phone less, but one thing you’ll have to prepare for is to re-learn how to deal with boredom. Waiting for an elevator: boring. Waiting for an elevator beside a stranger: boring and uncomfortable. Our phones have given us an outlet for these tiny moments of discomfort, and it might be hard to adapt at first. As a coping strategy try to see the positive side and look for details around you, maybe the elevator has an interesting manufacturing label, or take the time to check in with yourself, ask yourself how your day is going, what could be better. Try find positives in boredom.
As you use your phone less and start observing the world more, it can become slightly overwhelming to look around on a crowded train and realise you’re the only one not buried in an alternative dimension. For this, it’s also important not to judge, it’s easy to forget that you were the same recently. But it now looks strange to see people clutching, staring or typing into phones as if they are an external organ. Remember, some might be freeing up time by banking online to spend more time with their friends and family, others might be destressing by playing a stupid game, others might just be wasting their time. Make the best of yours.