Our smartphones have become the object we seem to need the most. Indeed, our relationships with our phones is so intense that the term ‘nomophobia’ has been coined to explain the sense of phone separation anxiety. As early as 2008, 53% of respondents to a YouGov survey said they sensed higher stress levels if they had left their phone at home or it had run out of battery.
Meanwhile, a 2015 study led The Scotsman to conclude ‘Teens can’t live without smartphones or social media.’ Such surveys and studies are now fairly common – and we all know the feeling. If your phone runs out of battery, you’re likely to get some sensation of ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FoMo) or another type of anxiety. After all, many of us use our phones for communication, directions and transport.
So we’re pretty much attached to our phones all the time. Applications like social media deliberately build in features to get us to go back for more, and we’re all now on average spending at least two hours a day with our devices – for young women, it’s nearly 90 hours a month.
You might be thinking you’re spending far too much time on your phone, and are considering having something of a digital detox. But given not having your phone is likely to make you anxious, and you might well be addicted. Indeed, phones and social media are designed to hook users in and change their habits. But how can we take steps to undo this? It’s actually a battle I’ve been through many times, so I’ve got a few tips to share.
1. Change login and locations of apps
Let’s consider your smartphone access and app behaviour. If you’re anything like I have been at my worst, you likely whip your phone out at even the slightest hint of boredom. Almost any nook and cranny of time waiting – something as mundane as waiting for the kettle to boil – I’d whip my phone out and navigate straight to Facebook. Then Twitter… Then check the news… ad infinitum.
I was hooked in by the ease of unlocking my phone – a swipe or passcode confined to muscle memory – and my knowledge exactly where my apps were. Facebook – home screen, top left. If you want to cut down on phone use, then breaking such habits by altering them is a good method.
For instance, you change your phone passcode and then change the position of your apps. I actually went a bit further and just deleted all of my apps that I could access through a browser.
This meant I had to login via a new method, then have to use a basic browser to access apps. And this made me think about what I was doing. Logging in had become more difficult, while the swishy usability of my apps was gone – replaced by a clunky experience.
2. Turn off ALL notifications to stop smartphone bingeing
When I hear someone’s phone notifications during working hours, I think to myself – how can that person really be focused and productive? As snooty as it may sound, there is just no possible way that everyone can respond or care to all of the notifications that are sent to them. Most of them are utterly meaningless.
For instance, let’s say you install the Gmail app on your phone for non-work email. If you’re anything like me, your personal email will be filled with all manner of junk marketing communication (and even after all those pointless GDPR emails). So if you don’t turn off your personal email notifications, you will be bombarded throughout the day with ringing and vibrating, and if you unlock your screen you’ll see a load of icons at the top. All of this is designed to make you check them.
Even work communication suffers the same fate. People like to think Slack is more productive than email, but it’s not really if you get literally every message buzzing you and distracting you.
My rule is notifications off. I just don’t see them as remotely useful. If something is urgent, people can come to your desk or call you up.
3. Abandon emotional online ‘debate’
This is relevant for both social media and email. Any online conversation that has a hint of emotion in it you should almost certainly drop and seek to resolve in person. Online debate simply does not contain the nuances of conversation necessary to help people interpret each other.
It is useful for connecting and arranging things:
‘Hi, let’s meet up here’
‘Don’t like that place so much, what about this place?’
This kind of escalation is time wasting, anxiety inducing and frighteningly common.
Let’s take a slightly more concrete example: After hours a colleague at work sends you an email criticising your department for not assisting them on a project. You interpret the email as well out of line, mainly because many of the points made suggest an ignorance of how your department operates. You could:
Spend the next hour fuming at this communication, stewing on it until you write a counter to each of these points in detail, thereby wasting a good proportion of your evening.
Wait until the morning, go over to their desk and quickly talk through the points – solving it quickly because you are able to converse and compromise.
Do nothing – suck it up and don’t respond.
1 is the online method, likely to essentially pour molten lava on the already flaming issue that simply seems so important because it is in writing. If you send your angry reply, you’re likely to be checking your phone all night to see if there’s a counter. Number 3 could be interpreted as quite rude, but people do it all the time. 2 is the most diplomatic approach and the easiest method of resolution.
The same principles apply to social media. One person makes a contentious statement, then someone else gives a contentious counter. Both of these people are now locked in an online duel of waiting for another statement, which they’ll more than likely not really take in and just counter back. Addictive? You bet. You’ll be refreshing your phone until the next reply comes. How about just abandoning the debate altogether? Just think to yourself – this really doesn’t matter. The sun will still rise in the morning.