Should you Break up with your Phone? Rosie Green takes an hon­est look at her re­la­tion­ship with her cell­phone

As re­la­tion­ships go, ROSIE GREEN has re­alised she’s be­come the needy one. Will a few strict rules help her to get some dis­tance from her cell­phone?

Good Housekeeping (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

My re­la­tion­ship with my phone? To­tally fine. I mean, I’m not happy all the time. Who is? Some­times I feel used. And anx­ious. And even, yes, maybe a bit con­trolled. But you know, I like the com­pany. And the com­pli­ments. And it’s bet­ter than be­ing on my own. Be­cause that would be re­ally scary. Hmm….

I al­ways thought I had a good re­la­tion­ship with my phone. I saw my­self as a recre­ational user, able to walk away when I wanted. But re­cently I’ve started to sus­pect that I am ac­tu­ally ad­dicted. Not in a ‘ha-ha’ way, but in a real, ac­tu­ally-mak­ing-me-mis­er­able way. I took a test (on my phone, ob­vi­ously) and it con­firmed it. Symp­toms? I am ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the phan­tom phone buzz, I feel off-the-scale anx­ious when my e-mails won’t im­me­di­ately load. (Get a grip, Green, you’re not An­gela bloom­ing Merkel.) I’m tempted to text while I’m stuck in traf­fic (bad). I text in the bath (haz­ardous). I text … while I’m on the loo. Shocked? I am. So un­hy­gienic, and shows me how low I’ve sunk. Why do I do it? Be­cause I’m ashamed that I need to check my so­cial-me­dia apps when I’m out with my friends. That’s a sign, isn’t it? Hid­ing your prob­lem.

I’m wor­ried that by star­ing at a screen 24/7 I’m miss­ing out on gen­uine mo­ments

I’m not go­ing to get back. Plus, I’ve got higher cor­ti­sol lev­els than a Trump staffer. And thanks to phone-in­duced FOMO, my self-es­teem is as shred­ded as a pair of Kar­dashian jeans. But be­fore we spi­ral into to­tal cy­ber­chon­dria, let’s stop for a minute. I know there are a mil­lion rea­sons why phones are good. For starters, I don’t know how I nav­i­gated my­self any­where be­fore the ar­rival of Google Maps. (I do ac­tu­ally; I used to ring my mother, who kept a road at­las on the phone ta­ble.) Weather/travel apps – all amaz­ing. Ditto ed­u­ca­tional games that make my kids want to do times ta­bles and learn how to spell ‘li­brary’.

Also I know my ca­reer is helped by an on­line pres­ence and that those plat­forms give me ideas and in­spi­ra­tion. And let’s get this in pro­por­tion: it’s not like I’m leav­ing the kids un­col­lected or miss­ing meals. Or tex­ting dur­ing sex. (This hap­pens to one in five mil­len­ni­als, ap­par­ently.)

So I don’t re­ally want to break up with my phone – I want to spend less time on it. To re­cal­i­brate the re­la­tion­ship. I want my kids to learn from my be­hav­iour. I’ve been read­ing Cather­ine Price’s How To Break Up With Your Phone ( Ten Speed Press). It’s a quick read and a good man­ual. Full of in­sights (‘any time we are near our phone it has a neg­a­tive im­pact on close­ness, con­nec­tion and the qual­ity of con­ver­sa­tion’). There’s also Anya Kamenetz’s The Art Of Screen Time (PublicAf­fairs), which is thought­ful, more wordy and straight-talk­ing. It seems like heavy use of screens is also af­fect­ing kids’ heads. (IRL ex­am­ple: my lit­tle girl went to a sleep­over and they all fi­nally went to bed at 11pm, then one of them woke up at 2am and got out her iPad, and they all played on it un­til 4am!) Any­how, my col­leagues have de­vised a plan to help me mod­ify my phone use. So, here goes….


Make your screen less se­duc­tive. Price sug­gests I turn my phone to greyscale. (On an iPhone, go to Set­tings > Gen­eral > Ac­ces­si­bil­ity > Dis­play Ac­com­mo­da­tions > Colour Fil­ters > Se­lect Greyscale.) This has the ef­fect of turn­ing an Ot­tolenghi salad into gruel – in other words it makes it deeply un­ap­peal­ing. (NB: switch­ing it back into colour is like suck­ing a sher­bet lol­lipop af­ter a year of be­ing sugar-free.)


Keep phones out of the bed­room. Buy an alarm clock. And set it. This in­volved ef­fort and a fi­nan­cial out­lay, but it does stop me look­ing at my phone right be­fore bed. And when I get up. Which makes me feel less like an ad­dict.


Down­load an app blocker. I in­stall Free­dom. I am very, very wor­ried this is go­ing to lock me out of my phone for­ever. (I have a prob­lem with pass­words.) But wow, this helps my pro­duc­tiv­ity ex­po­nen­tially. It ap­par­ently takes you 25 min­utes to fully re­fo­cus on a task if you get dis­tracted by a ping. I work bet­ter and more quickly.


Turn off no­ti­fi­ca­tions. This was a big­gie. Price says they cre­ate a ‘Pavlo­vian re­sponse – every time you see or hear a no­ti­fi­ca­tion, you know that there’s some­thing new and un­pre­dictable wait­ing for you, which you are hard­wired to crave.’ I turn off all no­ti­fi­ca­tions ex­cept phone calls and texts. This means life is a lot less stress­ful. But, on the down­side, I come so late to Twit­ter and What­sApp con­ver­sa­tions that it ren­ders them use­less.


Try a tracker to record phone use. I down­load Mo­ment. Yikes – on days I was out and about at meet­ings I was on my phone for 2 hours 31 min­utes! And I picked up my phone 38 times. This is less than their av­er­age (3 hours 57 min­utes!) but still far longer than I was ex­pect­ing.


Stop ‘phub­bing’. This means snub­bing some­one with your phone. To com­bat it, we de­cide on some rules as a fam­ily: no phone at the meal ta­ble. One rule for all. (In other words, if I’m us­ing the phone in the car, then the kids should be able to.) If guests come, then no phones. It’s okay to bring out your phone in con­ver­sa­tions if you are us­ing it to show some­one some­thing, but you must put it away straight af­ter­wards.


Try a 24-hour ‘phast’. This is Price’s cool word for a short break from your phone. I try this from Fri­day night to Satur­day night. I feel re­ally anx­ious about it. I leave the house for three hours with­out it and it feels weird, but lib­er­at­ing. Within min­utes I stop think­ing about it and feel a lot more re­laxed. This must be what it used to be like! I sleep bet­ter. I turn it on and, guess what, no cri­sis, no last­minute in­vite to Jay-Z and Bey­oncé’s bash that I’ve missed. No job of­fer that needs an im­me­di­ate re­sponse.

Thanks to the above, I’ve iden­ti­fied my main source of stress is try­ing to load and re­spond to e-mails on the go and the con­stant check­ing of so­cial me­dia. I’m now re­strict­ing my­self to three times a day on so­cial me­dia and only look­ing at e-mails when at my desk (and only then at al­lo­cated times).

I also sub­scribe to the WWW rule: what am I pick­ing my phone up for? Why now? What else could I be do­ing?

Oh, and I’m tak­ing a detox break once a week for 24 hours. The 6:1 if you like. And the kids? Well, I made them go on hol­i­day for four days with­out any phones/screens. In the ab­sence of them, they hung out with each other. They chat­ted and re­bonded. But on the way back, on the loooooonnnng five­hour flight, when every other kid was plugged-in and in a mol­li­fied, cata­tonic state, it be­gan to lose its ap­peal. I couldn’t read my mag­a­zines. In­stead:

‘Let’s play truth or dare to fill the time, Mummy.’ ‘Um, okay.’ ‘I want to go first.’ ‘Right.’ ‘Have you only had sex with Daddy?’ Heeeeel­l­llpppp.

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