A big conversation around digital detox and the benefits of unplugging is underway, and about time too as a new survey reveals that 25% of us admit to being addicted to our technology.
Me? I’ve noticed my phone insidiously become an extension of my arm, and like all phone junkies, I present the following symptoms:
1) Twitchy when it has low battery, distraught when it goes dead.
2) Constantly refreshing Instagram/What’s App/Facebook whenever I have a moment free, and almost certainly first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
3) Paranoid when it isn’t in my sight.
4) Feeling a lack of control around my usage.
I’m not even using my phone for work half the time: it’s to find out what my friends are up to, even though I see my friends a lot less than I ever did 10 years ago.
In fact, because other people use Facebook so much, they automatically assume everyone else does. And so whereas before you’d get a text or a phonecall from a friend to tell you they were having a baby or were getting married, now you find out from a social media site which runs like an automated news service.
The news, of course, being your friend’s lives.
Soon, there will be no point of meeting up or talking on the phone because you already know all the facts about each other while at the same time increasingly knowing less and less about each other as people.
When I found myself checking Facebook and What’s App the minute I’d wake up, I knew that something was wrong.
I may not be able to force my friends to call me or meet up, but I could certainly control how much I let this white noise intrude into my life. I certainly didn’t want to know another person’s every thought and feeling before I’d even had a chance to wake up properly and assess my own.
The other thing was around phone etiquette. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time as a grumpy teenager, I think my parents had a point in going mental if anyone called the house to talk to me after 10pm.
As an adult, it is my biggest bugbear when someone calls me after 10pm, yet I’m not confident enough to say: “Please don’t call me late as that time is reserved for deaths and emergencies.”
They’ll call and text, and as I have the willpower of a gnat, I do not have any resistance to getting sucked into a conversation that is never worth being robbed of an extra hour of sleep.
So clearly drastic measures needed to be taken.
When Rich Pierson from Headspace came down to give a talk to HuffPost UK employees last year, his overwhelming piece of advice for life changes was to remove your devices from your room – including your phone.
It was advice reiterated by Arianna Huffington when she came down to London two weeks ago, to promote her book Thrive, which is about unplugging and preventing burnout.
How could such a small thing make such a difference, I wondered, but I headed to Argos, bought a bedside clock with an alarm and marveled that we ever used things like this.
What happened next
I honestly expected that there wouldn’t be much difference at all. How was buying an alarm clock going to cure me of my smartphone trigger finger?
But as bedtime neared, I found myself getting quite antsy at the thought of leaving my phone outside of my bedroom and that was a shock. In retrospect, my mobile phone has been by my bedside every day, since 1999.
As I set my alarm, I found myself getting really anxious about whether the alarm would go off, and would I be late for work? But once I got past that (it took one night), I realised every time I wanted to find out what time it was, I just glanced at the clock which took all of two seconds.
In the past, I’d check my phone. Then I’d be pulled into a tweet, a text or…hey, maybe I should just see if anything ‘major’ has happened on Facebook and before you know it, 10 minutes have passed. The space that a standard, traditional clock gave back to my brain was incredible.
There was a rough patch...
Like all junkies, there was a danger of relapse. I felt confident that if I re-introduced my phone into the bedroom, I wouldn’t feel compelled to check it.
But, said a small voice, why not leave it outside in that case?
And that was that. At first I reasoned I wanted to have my phone near me in case I needed to Google something, but the fact was if I didn’t set myself boundaries, I’d be Googling all night, including: “Why Can’t I Get To Sleep?”
The second wobbly moment was just as I was about to put my phone on charge and retire for the night. A friend texted me, which then ran into a 45-minute conversation after which I was in no mood to do my nightly meditation, and didn’t even have time to read the book I wanted to catch up on.
So it seems I need to be stricter with my boundaries even before my phone is exiled from my bedroom. That of course, involves a bigger conversation about sleep, and about creating rituals for yourself that you don’t break.
What comes next?
For now, the phone stays out of the bedroom. Although the biggest annoyance is I bought a clock without a snooze button, the unlikely benefit is I actually get up when I am supposed to, which in turn means I can fit in my meditation and actually grab something for breakfast.
Overall, after my 10-day trial, I feel like something has been returned back to me, and the lines between my social media and phone usage have been firmly drawn.
The knock-on effect is I don’t feel like I’m missing out – on the contrary, checking my phone less often has lowered my sense of anxiety. And as for friends who will only use Facebook as a method of communication – that is completely their prerogative, but in the same way that is their choice, unplugging and not checking on their every move like a private detective is mine.