Why I'm 'breaking up' with my phone

11 Mar 2018

Smartphone compulsion

You may have seen this post about me deciding that I needed to ‘break up’ with my phone, because I do not think I have a healthy relationship with it. Dramatic? Maybe. True? Absolutely. For the record, I would say I use my phone just as much as the average person.

I got my first mobile phone when I was 12 and the first iPhone was released when I was 15. Technology moved extraordinarily quickly in those three years, and has continued to do so ever since. It feels ridiculous to say that smartphones have only been a big part of our lives for the last ten years, considering how fundamentally they have integrated themselves into day-to-day life. But that also means there’s not really been that long to see the true effects of smartphone usage on our brains.

I got an iPhone over 4 years ago but, really, it's only in the last few months that I’ve begun to question my relationship with it, despite hearing/reading about numerous people saying that smartphones are designed to addict us and many, many blog posts about ‘digital detoxes’.

I generally think my phone is an amazing tool. The biggest advantage is it allows me to chat to my best friends on a daily basis, despite the fact that we all live apart. WhatsApp groups are honestly how the majority of my friendships are maintained, and I am forever grateful for them. But there are so many other uses that actually enrich my life. Reminders, well, help me not forget things. I can whack a new story idea in my notes whilst on the go. I can have the entire 3 series of Gavin & Stacey in my pocket, ready to watch on the plane to Singapore. I have a world of information at my fingertips (cheers google). I can take a photo at a moment’s notice.

I am happy to admit that I like my phone and everything it gives me. But I’ve also hit the point where I’m willing to admit it also might be creating problems for me.

In the past few months, I have started to consciously leave my phone in another room and close the door for a few hours. I have started to charge it outside of the bedroom. I have started to turn it off at night. Because it started to click that, whilst my phone is an amazing tool and can bring me joy, it also can make me anxious, distracted and stressed. There are so many reasons for this that you could write an entire book on it (and someone has already done it – see below) so I’m not going to go into them. But I’m sure I will over the next month as I explore my relationship with that rectangle in my pocket.

So, yes, the next month. The book finally pushing me to do something about my phone is ‘How to break up with your phone’ by Catherine Price. It’s a really fascinating read but will also scare the shit out of you. Well, hopefully, anyway. That’s kinda the point because the second half is a 30-day plan to ‘break up’ with your phone. And just so we’re clear, it doesn’t suggest throwing your phone in the bin, digging out the old nokia and be done with it (although feel free to do that if you want). It’s about assessing your current relationship with it, creating a healthier one and essentially getting a bit of your life back.

Here’s a few reasons why I’m doing it:

You may or may not believe it but when I look at the science, it quickly becomes obvious to me that smartphone addiction is a thing and that’s mostly because phones are designed to addict us. Literally, designers are manipulating our brain chemistry (our dopamine) to trigger addictive behaviours. Yeah, I don’t like that. And why? Because it freakin’ works. I know; it’s worked on me. And probably on you as well. And I don’t fancy being addicted to anything thanks. 

I took the Smartphone Compulsion Test developed by the founder of the Centre for Internet and Technology Addiction (also a psychiatry professor). You wouldn’t necessarily call it an exact science as the questions are subject to interpretation but essentially, you have a list of 15 questions about your behaviours around your smartphone and you circle one if it applies to you. If you circle more than 8, the results suggest you are suffering from a behavioural addiction and should seek professional help. To be honest, the only way to score below 5 is to probably not have a smartphone and ain’t that just a little bit scary. I got 11. ELEVEN.

The average Briton spends more than two hours a day on their phone. That might not sound too bad but, just as a friendly FYI, that amounts to about 14 hours a week, 60 hours a month or 30 days a year. Don’t know about you, but the prospect of wasting a month a year on Instagram truly depresses me. Think what you could do with that time. I could finally write that bloody novel. 

There is a LOT of evidence to suggest that spending a lot of time on your smartphone negatively affects: sleep, creativity, deep thought, the ability to truly immerse yourself in an experience, attention span and your short and long-term memory. All of those are pretty important to me. Just sayin’. 

My phone keeps me constantly connected which is amazing but on the days where I just want to be alone, to gather my thoughts and reflect, to just goddamn switch off; my compulsion to check it means that social media can make me insecure, the news I didn’t ask for makes me anxious and even messages from my loved ones can feel like pressure; those little red icons more additions to the never-ending to-do list. And if I’m being honest, all of that can happen even when I’m not in the mood to switch off. So basically, I’m voluntarily engaging in behaviours that can make me insecure, anxious and stressed. Um, bit weird don’t ya think? 

You only have to look around you (not that many of us do because we’re all looking at our smartphones) to see that phones encourage self-absorption, re-design the lines of social etiquette and perpetually distract us. As far as I can tell, none of that is a good thing. 

I’m going to stop now because this post is already very long. I’m actually a week into my ‘break up’ challenge and will be doing weekly updates over the next month. Mainly to hold myself accountable but you'll also be able to see how I'm getting on.

For more information on the science and generally what the heck I’m going on about, I’d mostly suggest reading the book – but this article is a good place to start.