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I recently had a work conversation about phone etiquette, how we use them, when, where… you know the drill. These conversations happen all the time, yet increasingly phones are present in scenarios where only a few years ago it would have been deemed rude to have them there. Technology is moving faster than our sense of propriety and manners can keep up with. We don’t have a cultural adaptation to give us blanket rules of when and where our little rectangular friends are welcome to join the party.

This conversation, run of the mill as it was, got me thinking… well first it got me angry, which got me thinking and wondering why I was so bothered by talking about not checking phones so frequently or using them extensively during events. And then it struck me, I’m an addict. I am addicted to my phone. This was not a comfortable realisation and all my powers of denial kicked in to resist this dawning fact. But it’s true. I am. But I’m working on not being!

A few months ago a friend told me about a tracker app she used on her phone to tell her how long she was on it each day. Curious, I installed one on mine. Throughout the day, when you pick up the phone it notifies you how long you’ve been on it and how many times you’ve looked at it. At first I was vaguely horrified/disbelieving (hello denial my old friend). I was coming in at 3-4 hours a day… surely not?! Then I read an article about phone addiction and it told me the average person uses theirs for four hours a day.  Ah, ok, I thought, I’m normal… hurrah, carry on! So I did, sometimes sneaking up as high as five, mostly sticking around three. I normalised and avoided thinking about that time spent scrolling and staring dead eyed into the blue-lit abyss. A small twang of shame nicked at me each night when I saw my total but I did nothing to change my habit.

Until this conversation, when the rush of shame-fuelled anger got me taking a pretty good look at myself. I decided that the next day I would cut an hour off my phone time, aiming for a realistic (and still rather hefty) two hours. I made a concerted effort the next day to leave it in my bag, to not check, not scroll not look up every fleeting question I fancy the answer to. At the end of that first day I had notched up a total of 35 minutes!!! Amazing! It didn’t take much, a small bit of discipline and will to not look and I got my time right down. And here’s the revelation – it felt AWESOME! I did not miss it one bit. I looked back on my day and saw at least two places where I had full deep and meaningful conversations that would not have happened had I had my phone on me. I’d have been distracted and not so engaged and present. I didn’t know that was what was happening to me but since I put my phone down the realisations about what it has been doing to me and my way of being in the world have come quick and fast.

I have now been sub one hour daily for two weeks. I am more present and available for my friends and family IRL, I ‘m reading LOTS, taking a book with me where once my phone monopolised my attention. I ‘m seeing, hearing and experiencing the world more fully as I notice what is around me much more, and my low-level anxiety about the state of the world has vastly diminished. A lot of my phone time was dedicated to reading news feeds on Twitter and The Guardian app, and looking longingly at beautifully curated images of teeny portions of people’s lives on Instagram. I had become hyper-vigilant about keeping my eye on what was happening in the world, as though somehow, my knowing, would protect me. I kept up with Brexit news, Russia news, Trump news, UK politics, American politics, world politics etc etc, all contributing to an underlying sense of being in a very precarious place where anything could happen to bring it all tumbling down. I watched and listened to clever, articulate people make comments, criticisms and predictions most often doom laden and cynical, I think I started to become doom-laden and cynical without even realising it.

I feel so much lighter without all of those voices telling me we’re all going to hell in a hand cart. Cos you know what, over here, in my small patch of what I can take care of I’m doing OK! That’s not to say I don’t care about the wider world or looking after those that are in danger or suffering beyond what I can see but to be putting myself through daily overwhelm about all that is treacherous and unjust in this world renders me pretty useless at offering any assistance anyway. It’s too much. There are too many for me to ‘look after’ so compassion fatigue sets in and I close off to all I read anyway. It just sneaks in a little under the defences and creates a spot of ‘not doing enough’ anxiety.

So now, I am using all those hours I have taken back to read BOOKS, to do yoga, to play with my kids and connect with my friends. Social media can feel like it gives us connection but it is like communication candyfloss, offering impossible sugar rushes but no real sustenance.  That is still only to be found with those right in front of you. I am a convert and of the worst kind, cos now I want to convert you too! Come join the revolution! Un-tether yourselves and get back into the real world! It’s infinitely more friendly, colourful, surprising and optimistic than you might have remembered.

And to end on the highest note of all… the other day someone said ‘did you hear what Trump said yesterday?’ and my answer was NO. It was glorious, I didn’t have a clue what he had said, and two weeks without knowing that is worth five IRL.

 

How I did it…

 

  • Downloaded tracker app – My Addictometer (the shame is in the name!)
  • Deleted my social media apps to make it ‘harder’ to read them (it wasn’t, they came up as favourites as soon as I went to my Google app)
  • Mooched about in glorious denial for a few months, looking for my fave sites the long way round…
  • Had a conversation about phone use and fumed
  • Gave myself a long hard stare
  • Set myself a realistic goal
  • …Smashed it!
  • Returned to a life populated by people, books, friends, family and the sweet smell of cut grass- well, not yet, but soon!