24/7

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A few days ago I found out by the power of a judgmental app that in the previous 7 days I had been on my phone for 24 hours, the equivalent of one whole day out of my week. During this time I had – chatted to friends, learnt French, ordered things, did online banking and for the remaining 90% of the time, doom scrolled on Instagram. The app even showed how long I was using my mobile each time I unlocked, ranging from 7 seconds to a full hour.

I have always had a complex relationship with my phone and feel like I am continually trying to work out what works best for me – removing social media completely, letting myself a set amount of time to go on my favourite apps, alarms to tell me I have been on my phone too long or just turning it off completely. When I go cold turkey and put my phone away in a drawer, I feel great but as soon as the time creeps nearer for us to be reunited I literally get a rush of adrenaline, my heart starts beating and I can’t get off it until everything has been seen, responded to and completed which is impossible because as soon as you’re done someone does another bloody Instagram story.

I wrote this blog post where I concluded that a 7 day detox had changed my relationship with my phone for good and I would now be a lot more mindful with how I use this annoyingly intelligent piece of technology but lets be honest, it didn’t stick. I’m not mad at myself for being addicted to my phone because that is literally what they are designed to do. I watched the Social dilemma a few months ago and decided I would never use social media again and then the next day I posted what I was eating for dinner.

I feel my main ties to my phone lie in Whatsapp and Instagram. I have increased the amount of people I follow on Instagram which might sound counterproductive but when I follow less people I feel like I need to be up to date with everyone’s dull antics. Following more people has made it literally impossible to do that so now I can pick and choose the content I engage with. Whatsapp is a bit of a beast, I miss the days of saying ‘ptb’ at the end of a text message and then having to wait 3-5 working days until my mate had saved up their pocket money to get a top-up and then finally got back to me. Messages were long, squeezing in the absolute maximum of characters instead of the constant dialogue that Whatsapp encourages. I tried to use my Whatsapp account like old school sms, spending time before I responded and then sending a full paragraph to engage in more meaningful comms but that isn’t ideal when your gf just wants to know if you want salmon for dinner.

I don’t have the answers but I do know I need to use my phone less. These last 2 days the judgmental app tells me I have used my phone around an hour each day which means my usage has been reduced dramatically since I was presented with the cold hard facts and a graph to rival those on BBC news when a new covid announcement comes (next slide please). I’ve realized that when I have days when I have seen friends in person, I don’t reach for my phone as much. I’ve noticed that I am constantly craving connection and the best way for me to do that is to be present and irl with the people I want to chat to..which isn’t ideal when there is a global pandemic making it illegal to be close enough to have a chat without shouting.

So I’m going to be kind to myself whilst I muddle through this and not put any hard and fast rules about how I use my phone. As soon as I make a rule I want to break it. I can only use my phone for an hour a day? Watch me use it for seven. The thing I want to do is just use it a bit less and that’s something I reckon I can manage. At the end of the day if something is important, they will call you, promise.

Going offline through a global pandemic

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I want to start by saying I have no idea if anyone reads blogs anymore and reverting to an online space to write is extremely contradictory to the content of this post but there we are, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

Phones have become everything. They are our camera, our calendar, our calculator, our alarm. I used to see mine as a source of positive connection that I had a good relationship with. I flirted with a year of Instagram fame (I once got sent 100 bags of popcorn which was a real career highlight) that allowed me to help people across the world and I rode on the highs of notification and likes. My phone made me feel good..and then it didn’t.

When the extremely low level Instagram influencer lifestyle got too much I deleted my account and started a new more personal one which boasts 127 followers and a severe lack of free popcorn. The volume of interaction has lessened and it is a genuinely nice space to be in but I still feel a duty bound to catch up on everything everyone has posted. I feel distracted when I am with other people because I’m worried that someone else might be trying to get hold of me. I go to check the time and find myself picking grapes on Animal crossing, replying to an emails, working out how much money I have left in my Monzo account (£37.29) and then I put my phone down and realise I never checked the time and so I check it again and cannot resist the lure of Pocket camp once more even though I just picked the damn grapes and every sane human being obviously knows they take another 2 hours to re-grow.

For the sake of my brain and the sake of my little finger which has a permanent Samsung induced groove I decided to take action. When I was little, my Dad used to turn his Nokia 3210 off and lock it in a drawer before we went on holiday. He is a trailblazer of the modern world because in doing that he showed that he deserved to have a break which apparently is pretty radical. So I did like my Dad in 2002 and turned my phone off for 7 days and instead of jumping on the Brittany ferry for a rocky sail to France, I existed through a global pandemic and this is what I learnt:

  • I do not need every single app on my phone. Following my #detox I removed emails, Animal crossing, Good reads and Facebook and installed them on my tablet which stays at home. I can use these apps when I am sat on my sofa and not when on the go or trying to have a conversation with an actual human being
  • I do not need to reply to people straight away. No-one cared that I didn’t have my phone on which is either extremely rude or extremely reassuring. My therapist told me that when I get a message that I should read, reflect, respond instead of read, respond, reflect which has helped massively in my constant desire to agree to things that I don’t want to do
  • I am a better friend/partner/worker when my phone is off
  • I have more fun when my phone isn’t there. I am more present, curious, invested in those I am with or the space I am in
  • I have a better relationship with food and my body when I am not looking at my phone all the time
  • 90% of Instagram stories are boring unless they are by Jonathan Van Ness
  • I spend less money when I don’t have instant access to my bank accounts
  • I read way more books when I’m not online
  • I don’t need to be updated on every nuance of Covid-19 because when something big changes, I’ll know about it

I am not going to break up with my phone (because my life is infinitely better with Google maps) but we are definitely going to have some space. I am going to implement boundaries when it comes to my time and the access I allow people to have to me. I am going to share on my terms and I’m going to use the time I save on being a scroll zombie by re-watching Glee from the beginning and creating hilarious content from the v.problematic story lines that teen me was oblivious to because I was caught up in the exceptional harmonies of a high school show choir and you are all very welcome.

You deserve to take a break so put down your phone. Unless you are watching my Instagram stories and in that case please tell me I am funny first.