I don’t think I can survive without my phone. It is the source of my bread and butter. Since I use also use it for recreational purposes, there is no “switch off” time from it after work hours. I have, in the past, identified myself as a phone addict. Initially, I thought it was an addiction to just social media because I would find myself logging in to Facebook every few minutes. I deactivated my account for a few months. It was hard in the beginning, but I soon got used to life without it.
But a phone is a different beast. It is not just something that you use to make calls (its original purpose, remember) but a multi-purpose organ, an ecosystem for those who need to stay connected, a utilitarian’s ultimate dream. You can use it to keep in touch with friends, foes, and acquaintances; you can calm your nerves by listening to lilting music; you can play games on it; you can watch films on it; you can record your thoughts on it; you can even draw on some phones; you can stalk people on it (we are all voyeurs); and depending on the app and accessory used, it also checks your blood pressure. In today’s day and age, a smartphone is your ultimate work tool. Phone addiction follows suit. Some studies have shown how phone addiction is changing our brain.
Enter Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing: recently developed iOS and Android (respectively) applications that help us monitor our phone usage, and instruct us to not use the phone when it is time to sleep. iOS 12 came with Screen Time turned on by default, but (being relatively new to the world of tech writing at the time), I was not aware of this at the time of updating my phone. So was surprised when at 10 pm on the dot, all my phone applications dimmed. When I clicked on it an hourglass appeared with a question “Ignore Screen Time for 15 minutes” or “Ignore it for the day”. Ah! Screen Time has a daily and weekly report of your phone usage, dividing the usage into “Social Networking”, “Productivity” and “Creativity.” It gives you details of the most used apps, the number of times you use your phone in an hour, the frequency of notifications.
One can choose the Downtime timings. I have set mine for 10:30 pm to 7 pm. Five minutes to 10:30 pm, I get a message about Downtime beginning. Once it starts, all my apps, except for the ones I uncheck, that is the phone dialing and Facetime (emergency), go on sleep mode. This means that I don’t get any notifications from any applications unless I physically open them myself and choose to “ignore Downtime” for that particular app. I love the fact that I get a leeway of 15 minutes. That I can cheat for 15 minutes and then go back to sleep mode.
I think one of the reasons Google and Apple chose to come up with these applications is simply realizing that phone addiction is a real problem. It is a dependence syndrome, with symptoms not very different from victims of substance abuse. I recall going for a ten-day meditation course once, and being asked to give up my phone. It was one of the hardest experiences for me for the first two days. I felt empty, naked, like something important was amiss.
Providing us with information about our own phone usage pattern is perhaps the first step into becoming conscious, intentional phone users. The added advantage of features like Downtime (my personal favorite) is a semi-strict instruction to switch off for the day. The problem with addiction is that it is hard to give up. But when you have the will, all you need is a little push from an external agency, urging you to do the right thing.
Has Screen Time helped me? While I don’t particularly care for about the data it provides me on my phone usage (the phone is my workstation, so it’s a given that I will be on it all the time), I have almost stopped referring to my phone after 10:30 pm, unless it is work or I am not home. I see that as a baby step in the right direction. I do not know if it is a good enough app to get rid of a serious case of phone addiction (nomophobia), but maybe the awareness of your phone usage can help in some way.