Next time you’re about to board a train, walk down the carriage from the outside and glance through the window. What do you see?
Whenever I’ve done that lately, all I can see is row after row of people glued to their phones. Toddlers casually swiping at screens, teenagers touching up their selfies, suited and booted employees frowning over emails. Few people spend much of their journey looking out the window anymore.
How many times have you checked your phone today? Ten? Twenty? More than twenty?
Here’s one more question for you. Out of those times, how many have you intended to glance at it for a second and found yourself still on it 10 minutes later? You know how it goes; you hear that insistent buzz, that tempting ping, and your phone finds its way into your hand. It’s a spam email. Right, let’s just delete that…and suddenly – you realise you’re somehow on Facebook, or replying to a text, or scrolling through your photos.
Now as a one off, that’s harmless. But the problem for most of us is that it is categorically not a one off: it’s a compulsion. A survey from the end of 2017 found that us Brits check our phones, on average, 28 times a day.
So, let’s put it this way. If you happen to glance at your phone 28 times a day, and every fleeting check turns into a 10-minute browse, that adds up to 10 weeks of your year.
That’s 2 and a half months spent looking at your phone. This, of course, this doesn’t include the time you’ve spent staring at your laptop, iPad or TV.
What I’m trying to say is that we’re all becoming digital addicts – and it’s time to start thinking about having an intervention.
I’m not saying you should do anything drastic. You don’t have to chuck your phone out the window, or start looking up words in an actual dictionary instead of Googling them. And don’t get me wrong, smartphones are great. It’s incredibly useful to be able to get food delivered directly to your doorstep solely by holding your thumb over a button, or navigate the most convenient route from A to B without having to once check the name of the road you’re on. I’m simply suggesting that keep an eye on our digital habits and consider trying to rein them in a little. Time is a precious commodity – and whatever way you look it at it, we’re spending an unhealthy amount of ours gazing blankly into a contrived world of wiggling apps and infinite updates.
> Download Mute. This handy little app allows you to set targets for things like the maximum time you want to spend on your device each day, then tracks your phone use and lets you know when you’re overdoing it. If nothing else, you’ll know how often you look at your device (warning: prepare for a harrowing reality check). Plus, it’s free.
> Create physical distance. Do you want to get something done (and do it well)? The best thing you can do to start off with is distance yourself from your phone. I don’t mean put it facedown on the desk next to you, or even pop it out of arms reach. I mean put it on the other side of the room, ideally in a bag or a drawer. It might sound over the top, but get this: research from Texas has found that even having your phone near you – particularly when it’s within your eyeline – significantly impairs your ability to focus. That’s right; even if you’re not actually using your phone, it’s fragmenting your train of thought, causing you to be distracted and lowering your cognitive abilities. In order to keep it out of your mind, you need to get it out of your sight.
> Turn off notifications. Like it or not, our smartphones have conditioned us to respond reflexively to all its little prompts. But do you really need to know as a matter of urgency that someone’s just accepted your friend request, or liked your tweet from last week? They’re called ‘push’ notifications for a reason! If you want your device to stop pestering you to look at it, it’s best to turn them off.
> Keep it away during meals. Do you know what’s depressing? Seeing people out together and noticing they’re all too busy tapping to tune into reality and enjoy each others company. It’s also not particularly nice to eat at home while having little choice but to stare at the person opposite jabbing maniacally at their touchscreen between forkfuls. Save eating and texting for solo mealtimes.
> Download Duolingo. (Ironic, I know, to suggest apps to curb a digital addiction, but sometimes it’s best to fight fire with fire.) If you’re prone to spending hours browsing on your device, why not turn your scrolling sessions into something more constructive? 34 hours of Duolingo is the equivalent to one term of studying the language at university – meaning that unlike most apps, the longer you spend doing it, the more productive you’re being.