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Using your phone less
My complex relationship with my mobile phone.
I don’t often listen to the radio. For whatever reason that day I flicked it on. The two presenters were talking about their struggles with social media and opening up the discussion to the general audience.
“Text in and let us know how your relationship is with your phone and social media”.
They started reading out the texts.
“I sit on my phone at the dinner table. My parents get angry with me for it, but it’s a habit I don’t know how to stop.”
“I came off my socials for two weeks a while back and it is the best I have ever felt”.
There were very few positive stories, if any. Young people, I heard a few messages from people just entering their teenage years, from across the country really struggling with maintaining a healthy relationship with their phone and social media. It made for a very depressing few minutes of listening. Dystopian almost that the radio had transformed itself into a national “social media anonymous” group, people opening up and confessing that they were battling an addiction to their screens.
The timing was fitting however, because only a couple of weeks before this I had taken a long hard look at myself and my relationship with my phone. I didn’t like what I saw.
I didn’t actually have a smart phone until 2017. I deleted my Facebook profile back in 2009 (I created one again in 2015 for various reasons). Not because I wasn’t interested in tech, far from it. In fact, the only reason I bought a smart phone was because I had just splurged a grand on a DJI Mavic drone that I wanted to fly and it needed either a phone or a tablet. I just didn’t feel I needed a phone that all of this functionality up until this point. As long as I could make phone calls and text the people I needed, I was ok.
Here is my first ever Instagram post from 2017, photo courtesy of my shiny new drone. My family were the first to respond (my wife and sister in law) because my lack of phone and social media had almost become a running joke amongst them.
From 2017 onwards I started becoming more aware of social media and how it could benefit from career in software engineering. More and more of my time was dedicated to social media, and it lead me to build a following of 10k+ people on Instagram. Looking back, there were some good elements to this - I met a few people who I speak to fairly regularly and have even met up in real life for coffee with a couple of developers who were posting their stories on the platform.
But realistically there was a lot of bad. The algorithm changed over time to favour easy engagement tactics, and there was a lot of low effort copypasta accounts swelling to massive numbers with soulless content. “Do you drink coffee when you code?” was a crowd pleaser that got the people going. It was a far cry from the close knit community of software engineers we had created telling their stories and it wreaked havoc on my focus. I tried to change myself and my values to succumb to the algorithm, and that was super unhealthy.
From then until now, I have always been semi-visible online but my usage comes in waves. I will be active for a few months or so, and then I will drop off the face of the earth completely for a few weeks. In hindsight, I think this was because I had trouble keeping a healthy relationship with social media and would be able to spot the anti-patterns and effect it was having on my mental health and wellbeing. It would become all consuming, and then I would feel the need to break away from it and go cold-turkey. That in itself was not healthy.
This publication feels like somewhat of an escape from that - but realistically I still feel the same pressures & the same weight of comparison against those who are writing about similar content. It’s human nature! Anything with a like button, and a comment section has the ability to get into your head and cause all sorts of mischief.
Fast forward to the present day, and I have a much healthier and consistent relationship with social media. However where my inconsistencies lie now is the fact that I use my phone far too much.
In the UK, people spend an average of 4 hours and 14 minutes on their smartphones. 8 in 10 people say that their phone keeps them up at night. More than one in three under thirties would consider themselves addicted to their phone. These statistics are sobering.
Looking back over my ‘screen time’, I had been averaging 2/3 hours a day on my phone, which is still below average. I thought it would genuinely be much less than that, and the realisation of how much of my life was taken up by my phone was painful. Keep in mind I sit at a computer for the majority of the day anyways, this 2/3 hours was being used up primarily outside of that. Predominantly in the evenings. Valuable time I could be doing other things like being with my wife, reading a book or touching grass.
The main problem was gaming and social media. Earlier in the year I had downloaded a game to play with my nephew, and ironically I had sunk hours and hours into it when he wasn’t even around. I deleted it in horror when I saw the triple figure hours spent playing the game. It stung. Countless hours of gameplay to grow some arbitrary stats. How could I let myself slip so badly?
Social media was the other downfall, in particular Twitter. A classic case of doomscrolling disguised as being ‘productive’ because growing a Twitter following is beneficial for my career. Realistically I wasn’t even posting that much. I removed it.
Certainly for me my phone usage was paradoxical. I was consuming content that was promising the secrets on how to become “better” and “more successful”. It is very convincing when you think you are digesting this content that in a sense you are achieving those things through education. But the more you think about it, the more you will see this is a fallacy.
Spending so much time looking through this content is taking you away from the thing that realistically you know that you need to dedicate more time to, and that is doing the work/tasks/thing in question. It’s similar to spending all of your time reading up about music theory without ever playing an instrument.
Another change I made was to move the ‘screen time’ widget to the front of my Home Screen. I urge you to try this if you haven’t done so already. Even if you think you have a pretty good relationship with your phone, it is shocking how quickly these numbers rack up. I have been running this for the last couple of weeks and the difference it has made has been remarkable.
A few times I grabbed my phone with no real intention in mind, and noticed the screen time stats and put it straight back down again. It feels uncomfortable. There were a few times when I was just sitting there staring at the wall with restless hands, as though they were craving having a phone to hold and scroll on. A strange feeling, but one that has eased over time.
I don’t always achieve my goal on a daily basis, and that is ok. The aim of it was to be more conscious and to break some majorly bad habits, which I am pleased to say I have done.
I urge you to have a similar look at your screen habits. It’s something that is going to become more and more of a problem, and building some good practices now can only have benefit both in our work life but our personal lives too.