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?
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.