This year I realized I had a problem. I willingly carried this problem everywhere with me every day, and I’ve done so since high school. This problem? My phone.
In 2012 the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50%, and we’ve never been the same since. Teens today don’t remember a time without a phone by their side, and similarly I wasn’t out of high school before I bought my first smart phone.
This year I realized what many experts have been trying to tell us: even though smartphones and social media are supposed to connect us to more people than ever, we’re also more unhappy than ever. Constantly I found myself upset about current events, arguments in the comments, and other things that I generally don’t need to wrap my emotions around.
Late 2016 I learned about the term “phone-snubbing,” that is, making the people around you feel ignored in favor of being on your phone instead, and I started noticing more and more how annoyed Alex would get with me when I completely missed what he was saying because I was on my phone. The question then became “Why am I on my phone so much?” which to this day I still don’t have a good answer for.
It got to the point where Alex was pretty much done with me missing the things he was saying when I was on my phone. I realized this was a real problem, like some kind of technology addiction, that was having a negative effect on our relationship and I needed to make a change. In January I downloaded an app called Moment, which promised to tell me how much time I was spending on my phone, what apps I was spending time on, how many times I even picked up my phone, and remind me to get off my phone at regular intervals. The data I get every single day from this app has been shocking.
For the first week or so I used it purely out of curiosity to see how much time I was really spending on my phone. The built in limit when you first download the app is three hours a day (how much time the average adult spends on their phone daily), and I quickly and alarmingly went over time each day. I sleep about 9 hours a day, which leaves 15 waking hours, meaning over 1/5th of my day was being spent paying attention to my phone instead of the people around me! Through some experimentation I’ve found my sweet spot is about an hour and a half on my phone each day, a limit that I still can’t stick to every day, but I get close.
So what’s changed for me in the past year after cutting my phone time in half? In general, there’s more awareness surrounding my own phone use, and surprisingly the amount of time that the people around me use their phones. It’s startling to have friends visit (friends that I likely haven’t seen in months) only to find myself looking around in silence as they bury their faces in their phones. I know I’m not the first or last to make this observation, but I can’t help but make the connection between my most unhappy and negative friends and the large amount of time they spend on their phones.
My relationships have improved, and there are less moments where I find myself so immersed in my phone that I don’t hear what Alex is saying (though they do still exist and he gets to take my phone away when it happens!). I devoted myself and my time to a lot more projects and hobbies, including reading 12 books over the course of the year, beginning to go to yoga classes, going to dog agility classes once a week, and launching my own business!
I’m not saying that I did all these things because I cut out some phone time, but just think of what you could do with an extra hour and a half every single day! For me, it’s just been a mindset change of being a little more mindful when I go to pick up my phone and asking if that’s the best use of my time right now. All I needed to cultivate that awareness was an app that put the exact amount of time I’d spent on my phone right in front of me every single day.