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Stop Wasting Time on Your Phone

The title of this blog is an unforgiving self-directive. Last week, I downloaded a *free* app called My Addictometer that tracks how much time I spend on my phone. I did this for a few reasons:

1. Because I was checking my phone in any brief moment of boredom, even if I wasn't expecting a call or text. Maddening, really.

2. I noticed that the more time I spent on social media (mostly Instagram, but also Facebook and Twitter) the worse I felt about myself. Like Teddy Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

3. I would open my phone to look up a fact or plug an address into Google Maps and find myself sidetracked by social media. I tried muting my notifications, but I'd just open my apps to check my notifications. How genuinely discomfiting.

I also noticed, during long stretches of not checking my phone, that I felt good. When I stepped back from the constant updates, I realized I don't really care what anyone is doing or saying or thinking. Why should I? Whatever anyone is doing or saying or thinking doesn't really concern me and shouldn't really affect me.

To be fair, I'm not the only American with a bit of a phone addiction. In the first quarter of 2018, American adults spent an average of 3 hours and 48 minutes a day on computers, tablets, and smartphones, and 62% of that time (2 hours and 21 minutes) was spent on smart phones. I was actually shocked to learn that the average American adult also spends 4 hours and 46 minutes each day watching television. Our total screen time per day is ridiculously high.

In full transparency, below are my personal metrics for phone usage from Monday, March 25-Monday, April 1, 2019.

Monday, March 25: 2 hours, 24 minutes, 113 checks

Tuesday, March 26: 2 hours, 46 minutes, 175 checks

Wednesday, March 27: 5 hours, 19 minutes, 152 checks

Thursday, March 28: 4 hours, 13 minutes, 202 checks

Friday, March 29: 3 hours, 8 minutes, 93 checks

Saturday, March 30: 3 hours, 15 minutes, 89 checks

Sunday, March 31: 2 hours, 53 minutes, 131 checks

Monday, April 1: 2 hours, 11 minutes, 76 checks

Some of this data is a bit skewed as I used Google Maps quite heavily on Thursday, for example, and did an hour-long workout video Wednesday morning using an app on my phone. But my instinct that spending too much time on my phone isn't great for my psyche is spot on.

This study found that teens who use social media the most (more than 5 hours a day) showed a 50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls and a 35% increase among boys. The teens who were high consumers and users of social media exhibited four distinct negative health symptoms: lack of sleep, cyber bullying, negative body image, and poor self-esteem. They reported feeling more restless and lonely. Why? Because, "Comparison is the thief of joy," and social media increases our ability to compare. We can compare our lives to anyone in the world, at any time. Ironically, the more time we spend comparing, the less time we spend building a life that is fulfilling or meaningful.

Another study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology examined two groups of college-aged students: one that would continue their social media habits as normal, and one that would have very limited use of social accounts. This group had access to three different platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, for 10 minutes each day, totaling only 30 minutes of social media use. The group with limited access measured much lower in factors such as loneliness and depression. The group that cut back their social media usage showed a substantial decline in depression and loneliness. Science has validated what many of us already knew to be intuitively true (that overusing social media leads to negative health outcomes), but I think the perniciousness of social media goes deeper than simple comparison.

Much social media content is curated and fake. A photo or video is only one small part of someone's day, and the time we spend consuming this type of content doesn't serve us in any way. In addition to feeling down or blue, social media also encourages us to buy things. Beauty products clothing, expensive and unrealistic health products, kitchy personalized tchotchkes et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. There is always an item for sale that will fix any and all of our problems.

We spend hours on social media comparing our lives to friends, acquaintances, celebrities, and total strangers. We then buy products that these people promote in the hopes of being more like them, of being happier, sexier, more popular, or "good enough." When buying things doesn't help us feel better, we go back to social media and remain unhappy, lonely, and down. It doesn't take very sophisticated thought to recognize all of this as a GIANT waste of time. Scrolling through your phone is a waste of time. Buying things you don't need on the recommendation of people you don't know is not only a huge waste of time, but can be exorbitantly expensive. Living life in a daze of (avoidable) depression and/or loneliness is truly insane.

Below are a few tips I've used to limit the time I spend on my phone:

1. Mute App Notifications: Better yet, uninstall pointless apps. Facebook is a good one to delete; you can log in online, though the hassle of doing so is a strong enough deterrent.

2. Silence It: My phone doesn't even vibrate when I get a text message; it's obtrusive and distracting to constantly hear buzzes or pings.

3. Put it in Airplane Mode: This might not be feasible all the time, but it's helpful when you really want to focus on a task or just want to be left alone for a while.

4. Turn on Grayscale: Turn on grayscale the "Accessibility" category of your phone's settings. On an iPhone, find "Display Accommodations" and then turn on "Color Filters." On a Samsung device, find "Vision" and then scroll down to "Grayscale." This will make your phone less colorful, less interactive, and less addicting.

5. There's an App For That!: My current app tracks how much time I spend on my phone, but other apps (like Moment) can be set up to block your access to certain apps after a set period of time. For example, you can set a daily limit of 30 minutes for Instagram and be unable to access the app for the rest of the day after the allotted time is up. Frustrating, but also a bit of a time (and brain) saver.

"The only time you ever have in which to learn anything, see anything, feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or to respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You're only here now; you're only alive in this moment." Jon Kaba-Zinn


Sarah Rose

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