According to Comscore, in 2017 the average Canadian spent 3,927 minutes per year on mobile, with social activities accounting for a quarter of it. Increasingly, we’re using our phones for our social lives, our food consumption, and how to get around town. In a 2018 survey by PayPal Canada, nearly 66 per cent of Canadians use apps like UberEats and Foodora for food and meal delivery. Sixty-nine per cent rely on apps for taxi or rideshare services, like Uber or Lyft. And, nearly half of Canadians (49 per cent) use parking apps like Green P or EasyPark.
This handy technology is certainly a boon but now we’re becoming more aware that it’s also a bust. In a recent interview on CBC’s The Current, Dr. Ruth Westheimer had this to say:
“What I do see is that we can’t fight the Internet and we can’t fight the phones and the iPhones, but we have to tell people put that iPhone aside, make sure that you talk to each other because it has an impact on your relationship.”
Even tech-friendly A-listers like Steven Spielberg are cautioning people on how technology interferes rather than enhances our natural creativity:
“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”
Maybe it’s time we take our habitual use of smartphones in hand and set some healthy boundaries. After the initial withdrawal period, we might even notice that we calmer and have more space in our day to enjoy being alive.
Four Ways to Tame the Smartphone Monster
Make the Bedroom a Smartphone-Free Zone
Keeping your smartphone charging right next to you at night interferes with your ability to have a restful sleep. The blue light makes your brain think it’s daytime. You’re also tempted to check it—before you turn off the light; when you get up to use the bathroom, and first thing before you get up. Most of us can relate to how easy it is to get sucked into checking the phone for messages and then get lost in social media and newsfeeds. Once the mind is stimulated, it’s even harder to relax and have a restful sleep.
In her new book, #DoNotDisturb: How I Ghosted My Cell Phone to Take Back My Life, television host and columnist Jedediah Bila, suggests setting a phone curfew and charging your phone in the living room or any room other than the bedroom. She adds, “Also, if you’re in bed with a partner, giving that time to each other instead of to some device does wonders for everyone.”
As the parent of three teenagers, it’s important to me to have my phone nearby when they’re not home. But I charge my phone on my dresser, far enough away that I cannot reach for it, but close enough that I can hear a text or phone call. I also take advantage of the “Do Not Disturb” function on my iPhone which only allows messages and calls from contacts designated as favourites.
Turn Off, Tune-In
Smartphones are a major distraction, with calls and notifications interrupting you either when you’re working or trying to enjoy some personal time. We’ve trained ourselves to stop everything to check the notification or beep. This Pavlovian behaviour is not entirely our fault. Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager who developed the website Time Well Spent, suggests that social media apps are developed to be addictive, encouraging users to check in consistently. Harris compares design techniques used for apps to be similar to gambling, where individuals continue to obtain rewards by checking their smartphones and seeing notifications, similar to gamblers who continually pull the lever of a slot machine hoping for a payout.
One solution is to turn off the audible notification feature; check them on your schedule. Designate key family or friends as ‘favourites’ to enable those messages to get through. Everyone else can wait.
A meme in my Facebook feed is a picture of a child staring at a cereal box: “Back when we read the cereal box in the morning and not some tablet or smartphone.”
Set up “phone-free zones” or “phone-free times of day”. In our family, we have a “no-phone policy” at dinner, giving us time to connect and have meaningful conversations. This applies to dinners at home or in restaurants. And it works great!
Curb the Appeal
While it may seem counterintuitive to download an app to manage your smartphone usage, there’s no shame in getting a little help when you need it.
The following three apps are free and available for ios and android:
- Flipd (http://www.flipdapp.co/) – Flipd teaches you to refocus your mind. You can track your productivity, lock away distracting apps and challenge friends to unplug. You can also access the Wellness Hub library for soothing audio tracks to stay focused, calm, and mindful.
- Forest (https://www.forestapp.cc/) Forest turns staying focused into a challenge or a game. With Forest, you set a period of time and plant a seed that will gradually grow into a tree. If you stay focused, your sapling will grow into a big tree. If you use your phone, your tree will wither. You earn coins with each successful planting session. Forest also donates money to plant real trees for users who earn enough coins in the app.
- Moment (https://inthemoment.io/) – With Moment you can measure how much time you are spending on your phone, participate in guided coaching exercises to change your relationship with your phone or disconnect by establishing screen-free times.
Curious to know how attached you are to your smartphone? Take this test to find out.