My phone and I have a love/hate relationship. It's there for me when I need it: to wake me up in the morning, to check the train times, and even to have my dinner delivered. But it's also there when I don't need it, and that's why we need to break up.
A new book by Catherine Price is going to help me through these tough times. How To Break Up With Your Phone (Ten Speed Press, €18.19) is a fascinating (yet completely terrifying) account of how reliant we are on our handheld devices.
Related: Why are we so afraid of answering our phone?
The author looks at the ways in which they damage our mental health as well as the impact they have on the social skills of our kids and teenagers. She notes how over a third of UK adults look at their phone within five minutes of waking up, while more than half do so within 15 minutes… not to mention the fact that we hardly put them down as the day goes on. Sound familiar?
How about the point that more of us are being diagnosed with repetitive strain injuries, including ‘texting thumb’, ‘text neck’, and ‘mobile phone elbow’? I read the first half of the book in one sitting, open-mouthed and frightened.
But by the second half, I felt inspired to change my ways, and Price shares a very reasonable 30-day guide on how to break up with your phone for good.
I've been thinking about calling it quits for ages. Not only am I wasting valuable hours mindlessly scrolling, but it's also stressing me out and keeping me up at night.
Let’s chat about the stress thing first. It stems from a lack of downtime, because I’m always switched on. Between checking emails and trying to keep on top of Facebook’s birthday notifications, there’s constantly something to think about, do or plan. I’ve grown so used to my phone being an extension of my arm that when I’m not holding it, I feel anxious.
I've lost count of the number of times I’ve 'heard' a notification come through, when really my phone hadn't made a sound... Not to mention how often I close an app only to reopen it five seconds later just in case I missed something.
How to start the break-up process
The author’s first tip is to download a tracking app, such as Moment, which logs the number of hours you spend on your phone each day. You can also manage phone usage for the whole family – ideal for anyone with Instagram-obsessed teens.
Imagine my fear when I saw that I’d spent three hours of my free, non-working, non-sleeping time, just scrolling through social media. It’s embarrassing, and to be quite honest, I’m ashamed of it. Just think of all the fun and meaningful things I could have done with those hours. Price says it’s okay to feel this way. Recognizing how much time you’re wasting is the best way to take stock of your habits and take steps to change them.
Related: Throw phone-voice away and let your accent fly free
For the past month, I’ve been trying to phase my phone out – the same way you’d phase out an annoying acquaintance. I’ve started avoiding it for a whole 90 minutes before bed, which has been tough, I won’t lie, but definitely doable. It’s what Price calls a Phast, or phone fast.
She explains how regular, short breaks from our phones “are essential for our emotional and intellectual health”. I still use it as an alarm, but I make sure to set it early in the evening and I leave it across the room. The result? I fall asleep much quicker now than I did before – always within 15 minutes and I no longer twist and turn to get comfy. I’ve been waking up feeling more rested too, which is ideal for my particularly early starts.
Sometimes I carry my abstinence over till morning. Instead of checking Twitter for the duration of my commute, I look out the window and allow my mind to wander. It’s refreshing, plus it eliminates my usual neck strain from looking down at a screen for an hour at a time.
I’ve also tried to stop phubbing. “This is short for phone snubbing. Having your phone on the table during a meal? That’s phubbing. Checking your phone in the middle of a conversation? Phubbing.” But it’s hard. The author says, “These types of behaviours have become so common that we often forget we’re engaging in them. But we are.” I’m getting better. I hardly ever take photos of my food now and more often than not, I’ll leave my phone in my handbag while socializing with friends. It’s taking a lot of getting used to – but I’ll get there.
I’m still emotionally attached to my Samsung and I’ll never part with it for good. It’s my get-out-of-jail card for awkward social situations and it contains all of my favourite photos and songs. But I’m slowly learning to loosen the leash, and I’m feeling a lot better for it.