I realised things had to change over Christmas. Riddled with a cold which wiped me out, I spent more time lying prone on my phone than with my family. While the distraction from the relentless cough was merciful, looking back, I can’t recall what absorbed me: a picture on Instagram by my favourite blogger? A meaty op-ed on the #metoo movement? A cutesy video of a friend’s baby?
Whatever held my attention captive didn’t remain embedded in my memory, and that’s when I decided that my phone wasn’t giving me anything but a kick of dopamine with every like or comment.
I started with rules. I vowed to switch my phone to airplane mode overnight for at least nine hours. Preferably twelve. I also decided that I would have a tea and do some stretches in the morning before checking social media to give my mind some quiet time without the possibility of FOMO. When eating out, rather than have my phone face down on the table like a baby monitor, it had to remain in my bag, unchecked.
At first, the compulsion to check my phone was the hardest. My hands reached for it and my brain kept looping round to ‘look at phone mode’. It was as if it had been programmed to check, check, and check again. When my phone was in another room, I knew it was there, pulsing, living, a porthole to other lives. And I ignored it.
After a few weeks, I was reading more, and as my voracious appetite for books returned, so too did my attention span. Following the twists and turns of a character’s life unpunctuated by phone, breaks became a fun pastime, a thing to do for hours. I felt more engaged IRL, too, and found myself enjoying others in the flesh far more than I had in years. In short, I felt more like my core self than I had in a long time.
I am by no means there yet. In an absolutely ideal world, I’d check my phone once daily, twice at most. As a journalist, that’s not a reality, but adjusting my relationship with my phone has been undoubtedly positive and I fully intend on keeping mental – not electronic – tabs on my phone usage going forward.