Phone Detox – A Public Experiment (Day 1 Results)

Over the weekend, I read an amazing New York Times article by Kevin Roose (Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone And Unbroke My Brain) that really opened my eyes to my behaviors when it comes to my smartphone. I won’t reiterate most of his points here, because the article is worth reading! Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Like many people in my generation (born in 1982, I identify as an early/first-wave millennial), smartphones have become so ubiquitous that we don’t even realize there is a problem. Or, even if we do, we don’t realize the severity. The difference in Roose’s article versus many I have seen addressing this topic is that his approach and experience is not one where you just throw your phone in a lake and run off naked into the woods like Thoreau (okay, that reference was stolen from his article but it was perfect). Nor does it suggest that ALL smartphone usage needs to end or inherently stop. That level of extreme is just not one I’m interested in and I don’t think wholly necessary for a balanced life.

However, I do acknowledge that I pick up my phone way too much. I kill small spaces of time (and not just in the bathroom) with checking Facebook or Twitter or even just scrolling absent-mindlessly through my Pokemon in Pokemon Go. My wife and I have been discussing my issues for close to a year and how to improve them. I got an Apple watch to get notifications for text/phone calls without having to pick up my phone (justification: as the stay-at-home parent and first-line of communication for any problems with our children [one of whom is special needs], I couldn’t just completely disconnect). This helped a little.

I disabled push notifications on my phone and actually *all* notifications for any app other than Phone, Messages, Messenger, and Facebook (just couldn’t quite let go of that last one until this weekend). This also helped some, but not a lot. The behavior of just reaching for and picking up my phone was still ingrained in me.

When Apple rolled out its Screen Time with iOS 12, I looked at it and said, “Wow, I’m on my screen a lot” but once again justified it (eh, most of that is Pokemon Go, and most of the time it’s just open even if I’m not playing it). Of course, bear in mind I have had a Pokeball Plus (a device that lets me play a good bit of the game without even opening the app on my phone) since it released, so that was a bit of nonsense too.

After reading Roose’s article, I decided to give some of the methods a shot yesterday (2/24/19). It was a Sunday. My whole family was home. It was a good time to see about. I had spousal encouragement to back me up and the motivation to self-improve.

First, I screenshotted my data from the previous 7 days (well, 6 days minus the current day):

Taking into account that I took these screenshots on Sunday morning (10:47AM to be precise), it’s actually worse than it looks (which is already bad). Subtracting Sunday’s minimal data, and my screen time usage was actually 7.6 hours per day, not 6.5. I picked up my phone on average 105 times per day. And, as you can see, even with many notifications turned off, I got about 151 notifications a day. While most of these were still Messages/Messenger/Gmail, it was still a lot (this also didn’t count the fact that I still had on “banner” notifications for Facebook, even if “push” notifications were turned off, so any time I did open the phone, that little red number would encourage me to check and see what it was all about).

All in all, the numbers don’t lie and my phone is in front of my face WAAAAAY too much. Cue the exercise yesterday to see how it could go with a conscious effort (plus removing ALL push notifications that weren’t direct communication [email/messages/messenger/phone]). Plus, these were all notifications I could easily check on my watch to determine if they are important before picking up my phone. Here are the results from Day 1 of the experiment:

In a single day of conscious effort, I was able to cut my screen time down about FOUR AND A HALF HOURS from my average just the previous six days. And only 33 minutes of that time was on social media (brief checks of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for anything relevant but no major scrolling/engagement). Nearly 2 hours was still Pokemon Go, but it was more active playtime (a couple of raids with some friends, a little playing while running an errand or two, and 30 minutes of opening a Mystery Box for Meltans [where I let my 3yo catch most of them anyway as he was on my lap!]). The point is that I can identify exactly what I was doing in that entire 3h10m (for the most part). It wasn’t just idle time-wasting.

I still picked up my phone a lot, but 40 times fewer than my average. There’s a certain muscle memory reflex that will take time to alleviate I think. Luckily, though, the lack of notifications coming through led me to often not even open it when I picked it up. I think this part will take time to unlearn the habit. Notifications were down as well, but far more relevant to direct conversations with people or deleting emails (next goal: purify the inbox to cut down on notifications of junk/subscription stuff). Most importantly, I don’t really feel like I *missed* anything by only checking Facebook for 12 minutes on Sunday. I really don’t.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the results of this more concerted effort to get the smartphone use under control. If anyone is interested, I intend to come back with weekly updates here on my blog and see if I can keep it up. Public accountability would be delightful! I’ve already found myself more involved with the family, more engaged in the books I’ve been reading, and even less tired at the end of the night. Here’s hoping it sticks!

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