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It’s easy to convince yourself you can’t give up social media – and that might be true for some of us at work. But is it really essential to our downtime? Do you really need to be scrolling though your social feed of choice while watching TV or Netflix – or might you even enjoy the show more if you spend less time checking how everyone else is reacting to it?
In order to find out, four members of the HuffPost team – all of whom admit we are guilty of ‘multi-screening’ – ditched our phones while settling down for an evening’s entertainment. Did we miss it or were we pleasantly surprised?
’The first thing I’m struck by is how short my attention span is...′
Sophie Gallagher, Reporter
I like to think I’m the queen of multitasking, so paying attention to only one screen does feel like a wasted opportunity to do other things simultaneously. (Important tasks like filling up my Habitat shopping basket, refreshing Twitter, or Whatsapp-ing about what to have for dinner).
But I do admit, having to regularly ask my viewing partner what I just missed on the big screen because I was too busy looking at the small one, is getting a bit tiresome for us both.
When we sit down to watch the first episode of BBC’s ‘Bodyguard’ I want to commit to putting my phone in the other room - but it feels impossible. What if there is an emergency and I need to reply to a text immediately? On the floor next to the sofa will have to suffice.
I’m immediately struck by how short my attention span is. While the programme is entirely my cup of tea, I still find my brain wandering. It seems the over-stimulation of multiple devices has trained by brain to constantly want more.
By 20 minutes in, I’ve made at least three scathing critiques of the plot and characters – which are obviously both humorous and insightful – but my partner barely registers them. Doesn’t he know people on Twitter would be lapping this up? I make a mental note to show him my numbers.
For a programme that is only an hour long there are periods when it feels a lot longer - presumably because in the boring lulls I’m not able to momentarily distract myself with an Instagram refresh.
The unexpected benefit of this is that by the end I actually feel like I’m winding down for bed rather than gearing up for a Twitter debate. This alone is good enough reason to try this again (despite my initial frustrations).
‘ I reach for my phantom phone only to realise it isn’t there.’
Sara Spary, Reporter
I am a smartphone addict, even when I watch telly. Usually when I settle down to a night in front of the TV my phone will either be glued to my right hand or at least within arms reach. This time, I put my phone upstairs in my bedroom to avoid temptation and hit play.
If my boyfriend has been present to witness my phone-free TV binge he would have been delighted: usually he has to pause or even rewind the TV (with gritted teeth) so that I can rewatch all the important bits that I missed while absent-mindedly scrolling through Instagram for the tenth time.
Having a smartphone within reach makes me feel I should constantly be doing something with my time. Usually this is checking emails or social media, or absentmindedly scrolling through Pinterest or the news. Often it’s browsing clothes online or starting a grocery shop. But I always feel I should be multitasking, which is a sort of pressure.
Bodyguard proves really gripping and the absence of a phone makes me focus more on the action. But nonetheless about 20 minutes in - during a very brief lull in the pace of the action – I find myself reaching for my phantom phone, only to realise it isn’t there
Ditching my phone for a second night, I find myself missing it more. Bake Off isn’t the same when you can’t scroll Twitter to find out what people are saying about the contestants and their biscuit-creations. It feels like you’re somehow missing out on the conversation. I felt a bit left out.
‘It was so unenjoyable that it affected my viewing experience..’
Connor Parker, Intern
On Sunday night I settle down to watch a couple of hours of television without my phone – and find it so hard.
After 20 minutes I find myself itching to see if anyone’s been commenting in the group chats I’m involved in, even though I knew the answer is probably no. And, then, as we head towards the end of the Bodyguard episode and it seems to slow down a bit, the boredom sets in. It feels as though my attention span is about the size of of an iPhone screen; I’m itching to go on Twitter or Reddit. I’m a bit ashamed of myself really.
It’s even worse when the news comes on: there’s a report I’m not interested in and I want to check my phone, go on Twitter. I’m so restless that even though I’m not actually looking at my phone, any extra information that I should have gained by focusing on the TV goes straight over my head.
I might have managed a few hours without my phone – but it was so unenjoyable that doing so affected my whole viewing experience.
‘I hate how much my phone consumes me and how I often lose hours to it.’
Ashley Percival, Entertainment Editor
I have a real love hate relationship with my phone. Half of me can’t bear to be without it, the other hates how big a part of my life it is. Unfortunately, as an entertainment journalist, I can’t really put it down – I try to be across reactions to TV shows, and love knowing what people are thinking about the particular ‘thing’ of the moment. (I also get terrible FOMO about being left behind).
But I also hate how much my phone consumes me and how I often lose hours at a time to it. So I approach going cold turkey for two nights with both trepidation and excitement.
The first night is quite hard. I’m at my parents’ – and let’s just say endless repeats of ‘A Place In The Sun’ are not the thing to hold my attention. I catch myself reaching for my phone as a way of escape on a number of occasions. But, once I’ve got over the initial feeling, I find myself being a lot more present and engaged. I even - shock horror - make conversation with my folks!
Back at home, ditching the phone seems easier. I’m gripped by ‘Bodyguard’, and it holds my attention easily for the whole hour; I don’t think about my phone once. But as the credits roll, I’m itching to get on Twitter to scroll through what people made of the episode, and where they think it might go next.
I think I could train myself out of aimlessly scrolling through social media while I watch TV I’m mildly interested in. Twitter can often not be a very healthy place, and I’d relish not having to read people endlessly shout into an echo chamber or give their latest ‘hot take’ just to rack up the retweets. That said, the thought of having to abandon my phone every night and let WhatsApp and Messenger notifications pile up fills me with anxiety.
Abandoning it for those big ‘event TV’ moments would also be hard. For me, the thought of watching something like ‘Strictly’ or ‘Love Island’ without commentary from Twitter is unthinkable - it adds so much value and enjoyment in a way we couldn’t have anticipated 10 years ago.