On average we check our phones 150 times a day and either swipe, tap or click over 4000 times a day. Since the introduction of smartphones over the last decade research shows that our attention spans have reduced to being no greater than that of a goldfish.
I for one am not suprised by these statistics. Unfortunately the times that I feel I truly have somebody’s undivided attention seem too few and far between these days. Social events can somewhat be the opposite sometimes when people are attached to their screens, frantically responding to notifications (or pops of ‘’pseudo-pleasure’’?) or anxious about curating the right picture to highlight the night. It’s a bit of a paradox when social situations become more antisocial than being on your own and following the night through updates. Instead of being spoken to you’re forced to engage with a sea of blue foreheads who are probably and ironically checking in/posting about having such a good time with you/uploading that perfect photo of your evening (because if they didn’t Instagram/Facebook it, it didn’t happen, right?). Sound common?
But is it really our fault? Companies and scientists use powerful behavioural and psychological techniques to make their apps addictive. With these techniques becoming more subtler and sophisticated. Why? Currency. Time on their platform equals revenue.
On a more sombre note, the phone addiction epidemic is damaging us at all angles. It has shown to be damaging to brain power, reducing attention span, eliminating capacity to think deep or creatively and affecting mental health. These platforms are creating an environment that predicates on vulnerable people, breeding a generation of unhappiness or eating into sleep. I cannot stress the importance of quality sleep enough.
Low and behold even ex Facebook/Google (etc) employees who help to design and develop these addictive like qualities are pushing back and recognising the problems. I mean, the very person who designed the ‘like’ button has removed Facebook althogether now. I absolutely love Tristan Harris’ Time well spent movement. As an ex google designer that used to work on products that aimed to keep your attention he now advocates spending time well as opposed to merely
wasting spending time. He is essentially aiming to establish a new ethical community that realigns technology and our best interests.
So do you feel addicted to your phone?
I can hand up say I was probably addicted (on some level) to my phone. I spent a lot of filler time scrolling and subsequently reading about the lives of others, especially people I would never come into contact with nor did I care about. There is a lot of research that demonstrates links between absentmindedly scrolling and feeling worse about yourself, and on a more signficant level between heavy social media use and mental health issues. I certaintly felt the negative effects, making undue comparisons and eroding my self worth but on reflection the issue I am most annoyed about is the time wasted that I am unable to get back. Just 25 minutes of Facebook a day is worth 2 years of your life!
All those hours wasted following others’ lives yet not truly living my own? I understand I am not totally culpable because these apps designed to do this to me, but no more. About 6 months ago I felt it was time for a detox. I deleted Snapchat, I switched my notifications off and I did a cull of Facebook and Instagram *friends*.
Committing to culling my digital life has given me back time I did not realise I had. Don’t get me wrong, I found it difficult because my muscle memory would put me on autopilot to check my phone first thing in the morning, automatically open my social media apps when stuck in a queue, or feel a sense of urgency/anxiety when my phone buzzed with a notification. Remember the days when we didn’t have the two blue ticks to say your message had been read, people left voicemails and actually waited patiently for a response? Or being out to dinner without a screen in sight?
Bring those times back.
Fast forward 6 months …
I rarely check social media because I don’t need to
I switched my notifications off (this is bliss)
I don’t feel an urgency to respond to messages right away, nor am I apologetic for responding to a message *late*
I don’t check my phone first thing in the morning or late at night
And what have I noticed?
It’s been somewhat of a process for me but changing a bad habit is a slow endeavour. Totally worth it though. After my first post back in September about wanting to take a step back, I spoke about the changes I wanted to make and part of that was this digtially cutting back. What a huge difference a few months have made. I am now back to living on my own agenda and fill my time with things I want to do. I am rightly putting my brain back into proactive, productive and creative mode. I don’t feel as though I am spending time at the demands of others. I am starting to notice the time gained enables me a greater capacity to think more creatively and freely, and I for one have increased my productivity and I now operate more effectively. I also enjoy real conversation much more now and prefer phone calls to texts.