My name is Shannon and I’m addicted to my phone… again.
A few months ago I woke up to my smartphone enslavement. After a deep dive into the scientific research and with the help of experts, I began honestly and painfully admitting that although I thought the device was a hallmark of the modern age and designed solely in the interest of progress, efficiency, connectivity and productivity, the cunning contraption was actually preventing me from savoring the very essence of what makes life good.
After one especially regretful incident where my phone took precedent over a rare morning cuddle with my young son, I took a simple questionnaire developed by Professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University, who researches smartphone addiction. To my astonishment, I learned that I was addicted.
As I wrote in my piece, 5 Ways To Break Up With Your Phone, I took decisive action which included closing all my social media accounts except for one, which I use in a very limited way and is no longer installed on my phone. Although this might be considered career suicide for a journalist who works in an industry in which the number of followers you have “validates” your worth, I profess that the time and head space I’ve reclaimed from no longer falling into a bottomless feed of click-bait and babycinos is worth it. The most notable effect was a feeling of greater ease through my day. For the first time in years, I felt as though there was actually enough time.
…Until I fell off the wagon.
It transpired by stealth after I returned home from a two-week overseas shoot for my new film and my usual at-home routine had been disrupted. My smartphone made it’s way back into my bedroom and back into my life.
Surreptitiously my cravings reignited; I was compulsively checking emails immediately after waking, losing 30 minutes of precious “me” time to scrolling ever-green feeds of online shopping sites, and mindlessly grabbing my phone to “capture” the moment instead of actually enjoying it.
This next bit is the painful bit, because this is where I confess to what woke me up (again).
I was in my car on my way to an interview and used my phone while I was pulled up at the lights to check the address of my destination. The red stop light bored me, especially after the excitement of my recent travels, so I thought, oh, why not just check what else is in my inbox.
My trance was broken by the sound of a loud, angry car horn. Beeeeeeeeep! Heart racing, I threw my phone away and looked up to see a police vehicle pulled up next to me and the face of a stern-looking policeman, window down, forefinger raised and pointing right at me. For this law abiding mother (who’s very aware of the latest ad campaign which uses the real text messages typed by fatal accident victims in the seconds before their deaths) being singled out was horrifying. “Oh my God,” I thought. “I’m one of them!” And I, of all people, should know better.
I think my confession speaks volumes about the stickiness of these devices. Even though I know about all the evidence about lost productivity, lost brain function, lost wellbeing, lost work-life balance, lost sleep, lost relationships, and even lost lives resulting from inappropriate smartphone use, I was still sucked in.
As I wrote in my piece Weapons of Mass Distraction: How Your Phone Hijacks Your Behaviour, my smartphone has become an outsourced emotion regulation device. I use it to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Putting off washing dirty dishes? Check my phone. Having a hard time composing a sentence for my blog? Check my phone. Bored at the traffic lights? Check my phone.
I’m not alone. The average smartphone user checks for updates 85 times a day. In a normal waking day, that’s every 11.2 minutes.
So what to do?
I’m one-step away from deciding to join the neo-Luddites and seriously considering switching to a dumb phone permanently. But I confess that I’m still drawn to the convenience of my mini super computer that allows me to navigate with ease in unknown locations, effortlessly track my health data, and send quick messages when I’m running late. So I’m going to give my self-prescribed quit program one more go.
In addition to the initiatives I took previously (including quitting social media, deleting news and game apps, using a "dumb" phone for an alarm clock, audio books and meditation apps, hacking my phone to make the screen go greyscale, getting a wrist watch, and making environmental changes around my home such as installing a landline) I’m adding the following measures:
- My smart phone’s home screen now has a photograph of my kids holding up a sign saying “What would you like to pay attention to right now?”
- I’ve placed a rubber band around my phone, which is just one more annoying thing getting in my way to compulsive phone checking.
- I’ve deleted the shortcuts in my smartphone’s web browser to my favourite news and shopping sites so that I have to manually type in the URLs.
- I’ve stopped using my productivity app and gone back to an old fashioned note book for my To Do list.
- I’m using Apple’s recently released software called Screen Time to place phone usage limits, although, annoyingly, it’s pretty easy to get around it. (If any reader knows of an app that will specifically allow me to block Mail between the hours of 6am and 6pm please let me know. I’ve searched and can’t find anything. I’ve also been using Space, which puts a delay on opening apps, but because my addiction is so sneaky, I quickly developed a hack around it and started checking Mail through the phone’s search function.)
Any additional tips and tricks, are most welcome.
If you’d like to do a little self-reflection of your own, here is the questionnaire used by researchers studying smartphone addiction.
Reply yes or no to the following questions. If you answer ‘yes’ to six or more of these statements, it may be indicative of a problematic and/or addictive use of a smartphone.
“My mobile phone is the most important thing in my life”
“Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of time I spend on my mobile phone”
“My mobile phone use often gets in the way of other important things I should be doing (working, education, etc.)”
“I spend more time on my mobile phone than almost any other activity”
“I use my mobile phone as a way of changing my mood”
“Over time I have increased the amount of time I spend on my mobile phone during the day”
“If I am unable to use my mobile phone I feel moody and irritable”
“I often have strong urges to use my mobile phone”
“If I cut down the amount of time I spend on my mobile phone, and then start using it again, I always end up spending as much time on my mobile phone as I did before”
“I have lied to other people about how much I use my mobile phone”