The 5 days I tried to limit my smartphone addiction.
Hands shaking, nibbling on my fingernails, you’d think I was jonesing for a cigarette, not that I’d simply given up push notifications. It was only day two of a five-day experiment, and I glanced at my phone for the twelfth time in the hour, waiting for the movers to arrive. I may be forgiven for being a little at loose ends for I’m moving 100 miles and starting a new job next week.
Inspired by the women from dear-data, I endeavored to limit my cell use and prohibit frequenting similar websites, to which I’m slightly addicted. Before starting this journey of tech cold turkey and self-discovery, I took a test and discovered that I have a mild case of Nomophobia, “ 21st-century term for the fear of not being able to use your cell phone or other smart device,” (Lamotte, 2017).
I scored a 64 that puts me in the 61 to 99 tier, which according to Calgar Yildiri, assistant professor at State University of New York Oswego, means “you probably can’t go long without checking your phone.”
That’s about once every twelve minutes, according to a recent Ofcom survey (Waterson, 2018).
What I decided to do
Social media does not have a strong pull on me; I have a limited presence consisting of a few semi-dormant accounts. My fix—what I can’t resist—is my news feed, particularly Google News, Google, BBC News, ESPN, and NPR. I decided to give up all these apps and avoid the associated websites with the exception of Google, which would be too much of hassle.
The first step was eliminating those push notifications with their variable rewards; I didn’t want to check the time on my phone only to be sucked into the latest news tidbit and spend a half hour down a rabbit hole glancing at every mildly interesting story out of DC or Hollywood.
The next step was to record how many times I went to check my phone (only to be disappointed), what I called “phone impulses.” I didn’t log every time I used my phone: I left off phone calls, email checks (unless it was a move of boredom) and other necessary tasks.
My goal was to get an idea of how many times I reach for my phone as a distraction. It would be helpful to know as I embark on a new job and hope to avoid the same pitfalls.
In five days, I experienced 123 phone impulses, an average of 24.6 a day. Tuesday was my worst at 34, and Thursday my best at 18.
About these results
My raw data was recorded in the most ironic way imageable—by using my Notes app on my iPhone. I also noted that, particularly on Monday and Tuesday, I paced more than usual, occupying energy or attention that is normally directed towards my phone.
Most of my phone impulses came in the morning and early afternoon, between 7 am and 1 pm. I didn’t do as careful a job recording the time of the impulses each day; however, on Monday, 18 of the impulses came before 1 pm and only 8 the rest of the afternoon and night.
The most surprising number is two, the number of lapses that occurred in the five-day span and both happened Monday. The first occurred when I received a Google News notification because I forgot that I have two version installed on my phone. The second, when I checked the baseball scores on my laptop after driving over a hundred miles.
I found myself watching more network news than usual, trying to compensate for the loss of my phone apps, which is how I usually try to stay informed.
Besides using Notes for a running daily tally, it’s also worth noting that I was not at work this week, and I suspect that my tally would have been significantly higher if I had been behind my desk. Also, I moved this week—which is stressful—so I was probably more distracted and anxious than I am during a typical week.
The average person is online 24 hours a week and a quarter of adults in Britain report spending more than 40 hours a week online (Waterson, 2018). I’m comfortably in the latter group for my job I’m connected to the internet 40 hours a week, an occupational hazard of being in the email business. When you throw in my leisure time, I’m easily pushing 60 plus hours online.
Even on a week when I was out of the office, I reached for my phone 25 times just because I was bored or couldn’t resist its absorbing blue glow. I was surprised that I didn’t feel the same pull toward the internet (e.g. my Google News feed or ESPN). I didn’t feel it was a challenge to avoid some of my favorite websites. I would hazard this is because the smartphone or pads have replaced the internet as the first choice for leisure web browsing.
This may partially explain what’s happening to teenagers with no living memory of dial-up internet or Netscape Navigator. Jean M. Twenge likens it to an earthquake, “There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”
“The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.” (Twenge, 2017). This is exactly why I try to stay away from social media because it reminds me of being a teenager and resurfaces those old feelings of being left out or comparing myself to my peers which is just a downer.
What should we do with our time and anxious energy besides pacing, wringing our hands or grabbing that extra hit of coffee?
Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work, suggests trying to be like a craftsman, getting to the state of deep concentration and meticulous attention to detail and applying it to your life and work. “Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skill wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.” (Newport, 2016, p. 90).
I experienced this first hand when I used to build models. I found it relaxing to focus on painting the fine details; hours would pass, and the only way I could tell was the stiffness in my back.
I can’t wait to try another phone purge so I can learn to focus on my work as a craft and find it as rewarding as building models and working with my hands.
Will you accept the phone purge challenge so you can learn to get down to some serious focusing?
LaMotte, S. (2017, November 30). Smartphone addiction could be changing your brain. CNN Wire Retrieved from https://www-cnn-com.libraryproxy.quinnipiac.edu/2017/11/30/health/smartphone-addiction-study/index.html
Newport, C. (2016). Deep work is meaningful. Deep work (1st ed., pp. 72-92). New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
Twenge, J. M. (2017). Has the smartphone destroyed a generation? Atlantic Media, Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
Waterson, J. (2018, August 2). Britons spend average of 24 hours a week online, ofcom says. The Guardian Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/aug/02/fifth-of-britons-feel-stressed-if-they-cant-access-internet-ofcom-report