I didn’t buy a phone, I bought time

“How much time am I spending on this thing? Not much I don’t think, I would consider that my phone usage is rather average,” I thought to myself as I sat there, staring at my phone blankly.

The naivety of believing that our hand extensions are not occupying a large part of our life, that the dopamine and oxytocin kicks aren’t working. The naivety of believing that the endless amount of to-dos and distractions at our disposal simply at a sole pickup of the phone are nothing. The naivety of believing “I am not addicted”.

iPhone Screen Time Feature displayed on the screen

iPhone’s ScreenTime feature was created to help people manage their phone time use [Apple]

Remembering the new screen time feature on my iPhone, I mentally prepared myself to find out the truth. The number I saw was terrifying, shocking, and to be honest, embarrassing.

The feature tells you how much time you have spent on your phone over the past seven days and averages out your daily use. You can even gain insight to which applications you have been gifting your life.

My stats were as follows:

  • Daily average: 5 hours
    Use over the past week: 40 hours

Another eight hours and I would have wasted two days of the week just on my phone. After some calculations, it turns out that daily five hours will cost me eighty-six days in a year, that’s almost three months. What the f*%!

Mobile phones have had an evolution of their own – going from phones to a daily essential as they have a lot of handy tools, replacing your map, camera, credit card, notepad and even your entertainment system. You can have whatever you want and need on it for your day to day life.

We are also looking for the kick. That dopamine and oxytocin kick. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gets released during exercise, for example, it is a great thing but one that can also make us form bad habits such as looking at our phones too much. Oxytocin is another neurotransmitter and is an essential human hormone but can fuel the addictive and bad behaviour.

Perhaps our phones make us feel good to some extent but seeing my time use did not. Upon my realisation of how much of my already short life on this planet I am willingly giving away, I ran out of the house and bought myself a phone.

Nokia phone held in a hand

Students from London College of Communication spend on average 33 hours per week on their smartphones [Image: Anastasia Turkina]

A Nokia. A simple black Nokia and I could not have made a better decision. I challenged myself to try and go a week without my smartphone which I turned off and tucked away at the top of my wardrobe.

Despite being wrong about my time use, I was right thinking it was average amongst individuals my age. Students from London College of Communication (LCC) on average* use their phone for four hours and thirty-three minutes a day. Their weekly average is thirty-three hours and eight minutes.

This data can be supported by a previous study carried out stating that we touch our phones 2,617 times per day, unlock our phones eighty times per day, and spend an average of five hours a day browsing.

As I approached people to take part in my survey, it usually followed with an “Oh god” as they reluctantly reached for their phone being scared to find out.

“I knew I had it, it pops up all the time, I just ignore it. I don’t want to know.”
“Omg, that’s how much time I spend on my phone?!”
“Wow, I spend a day of my week staring at a screen.”
“This is not a survey, more like an intervention.”
“Oh no. I don’t think I want to know.”
“This is embarrassing.”

These were just some of the comments from those filling out the survey. People are aware that they spend a large amount of time on their phone before even checking, however, were usually confronted with a number higher than they had anticipated.

If you dedicate that thirty-three to forty hours of your week towards something else, just think about the things you can achieve. Imagine what you can do with this total of three months.

If you spent those four hours a day towards learning a new language, by the end of the year you will be fluent. You can work on a project you’ve been putting aside, dedicate these hours to learning new skills via online courses or get into fitness, challenge yourself physically.

Students from London College of Communication (LCC) on average use their phone four hours and thirty-three minutes a day. Their weekly average is thirty-three hours and eight minutes.

“I have to admit that today, I do really rely on my phone. I have to always look at flight times, hotels and bookings of other sorts. Which doctor is the best based on reviews? Then I always have this never-ending amount of questions that I have to find out and turn to Google. At times, I already lay down to go to sleep, but then ‘hold up, I forgot, this is interesting, I need to find this out’,” Elizaveta Vasi, 45, told us.

“But we always had phones standing at home and like today, we still spent a lot of time on them, talking to everyone. First with one girlfriend, then the all the others, then a boy would call, and you decided over the phone where you are going, the time, who’s picking up who.”

Talking on the phone is something millennials do not do as much anymore. The time that was dedicated to the phones before were spent bonding with people, fulfilling their social aspect. In an article on BGR, Andy Meer looks into millennials feelings towards phone calls based on a survey carried out by BankMyCell. “Millennials may live on their smartphones, but they despise using those devices to do the very thing they were first invented for — to actually talk (verbally) with other people,” he wrote.

BankMyCell calls it the ‘generation mute’ trend. “With daily smartphone usage continually on the rise, why is the volume of calls from these supposed ‘phone addicts’ ironically deteriorating?”

Woman talking on the phone

Millennials are most likely to ignore phone calls from friends and family [Pexels: Bruce Mars]

“It’s because they’ve grown up in a digital age in which they’ve adopted alternate primary forms of communication,” wrote Meer. The 1,200 respondents for this survey were from the US and aged between 22 and 37.

They found out that people view phone calls as time-consuming. The most used excuse for not picking up a phone call is that they did not hear the ring or the vibration.

They are most likely to dodge calls from friends and family.

They feel that they need to ‘summon up the courage’ to make a phone call and would rather have unlimited data rather than unlimited phone calls and texts.

This can be supported by the fact that according to LCC students, their most used app with the highest hours was Instagram followed by YouTube or a form of communication such as Messenger or Whatsapp. Hence, the hours spent on the phone are hours spent on the screen – scrolling through different social media platforms, snapchatting every little thing throughout the day and listening to music.

It is no wonder people feel like they have no time on their hands. It slips away so quickly, we do not realise it.

For Vasi, it is beneficial for her day to day life handling emails and endless meeting phone calls. She praised Google Maps that freely enables anyone to get around any city by car or foot.

“Before we used to use real maps and it was so annoying and complicated to figure out how to get somewhere.” However, she does admit that certain entertainment options do waste a lot of her time, not as much as those whose careers depend on it or as much as the younger generation – she does not have an Instagram account.

Instagram log in page on iPhone screen

25 million businesses are registered to Instagram [Pexels: energepic.com]

Nevertheless, it affects her and is witnessing the effect around her. “We are all striving and aiming for a ‘Luxurious Lifestyle’ and that is what social media does, it sells people that lifestyle. We have built our world so much around buy-sell buy-sell. What we are looking at on social media is just business. People are either selling their products, or themselves (social media influencers/models/doctors). That is the majority of what we are looking at.” Apparently, there are 25 million businesses registered on Instagram and two million active monthly advertisers.

But it is becoming harder not to use our phones today. Other than the basic needs it provides, it also plays an important role in job recruitment. There are endless articles online telling you the importance of a social media profile and online activity for jobs. An article by themuse says: “92% of companies are using social media for hiring — and we’re not only talking about LinkedIn.”

Social media is used to gain more of an insight into the person’s life, perhaps their resume sounds good but they would like to get a feel of the character and their personality before proceeding with anything else. This places a lot of pressure to present yourself as you would like to be seen by the public. With that comes a lot of comparison and dissatisfaction.

“We used to compare ourselves to those around us, our friends the people around our town, not with the whole world,” said Vasi. “It’s not that I lost confidence but you lose yourself. Yes, we used to look at fashion, but with the number of things we are exposed to today, you do begin to lose yourself a little bit.”

Despite the negative effects, technology has created a new world of endless opportunities and a new life. It is both amazing and terrifying.

Going a week without my smartphone was somewhat doable. I let all my friends and family know that for some time if they wanted to reach me they could do so via phone call or SMS only. There were times I struggled and came very close to caving in due to certain inconveniences, but I stuck through and was very happy that I did.

This is how my week went.

Waking up

Alarm clock on side table

Sleeping with your phone by your bedside can lead to serious health issues including cancer and is a sign of addiction [Pexels: Pixabay]

My radio alarm went off. On day one I woke up and reached for my phone. Two text messages. I replied, and after aimlessly clicking some buttons realised there is nothing for me to do on there and put it down. “I can either stay and stare at the ceiling or get on with my day.” So I hopped out of bed and got an extremely early start, I had to do something.

The rest of my mornings looked very similar, except I started challenging myself to not pick up my phone at all.  It got better, but the habit was hard to kick. Some mornings it was automatic, but since I had nothing to procrastinate me rolling out into the cold, that is all I had left to do.

According to Addiction Tips, picking up your phone first thing in the morning is a sign of addiction. It does not make it easier for many as their phones also act as their alarms. Once you turn off the alarm and see all the notifications on your homepage, you dive right in. That is because many people sleep with their phone near their bed, hand reach away. This is one important habit people should fix as it disrupts sleep and can lead to serious health issues including cancer due to the radio frequency.

Working out with no music?

I appreciate playing some hot beats whilst doing some reps or cardio at the gym. I used to get pissed if my AirPods weren’t charged enough for my session. But when that wasn’t an option, it was surprisingly nice listening to the music the gym was playing, the voices of conversations, people hilariously grunting to extreme levels and the sound of weights being dropped.

There was no song switching or phone carrying. I was completely immersed in the session and forgot I didn’t have anything with me, I came with what I needed, myself.

The Human Performance Resource Centre (HPRC) looked into the benefit of being ‘unplugged’ saying: “Listening to a good song can distract you from the mental and physical strain that a hard workout can cause. But instead of trying to avoid those sensations, try to fully experience them…learning to be more in tune with how your body and mind react to physical exertion might help you cultivate the self-awareness you need to manage those responses more effectively, especially in combat and training situations.”

The commute

People watching or reading was my only option whereas before it was either reading or distracting myself with random stuff on my phone.

Moreover, Citymapper is good for new commutes but I managed to get around London without it just fine. The underground map can be found when you enter, and there is always someone you can ask for directions.

When you rid yourself of little excuses such as checking a quicker route, you also rid the unconscious click on Instagram to see what’s new.

I realised we have wired ourselves to pick up our phones

At first, I was excited and feeling great. Productivity was through the roof and I thought: “Well this is easy, I don’t need my iPhone at all”. But then, I started catching myself reaching for my Nokia. I would pick it up, press a couple of buttons that didn’t do anything and put it down. Just for the sake of doing something.

There was no notification, nothing. I just kept picking it up without thinking about it. If this was my iPhone I would have been sucked in in no time.

On the tube, everyone was on their phone. I began looking in the reflections of the window to see what people were doing (not creeping at all). Some were playing candy crush, some were aimlessly scrolling up and down because they had no internet, someone even took out their phone, scrolled through their home pages, and put it back in their pocket.

That was me! I remembered a time I caught myself back when I was using my iPhone putting it away in my pocket and then not even a minute later taking it out again, for absolutely no reason.

My brain was wired to picking it up. People are searching for social validation via any type of interaction with them be it messages or likes. During a normal day, I had around 130 pick-ups. That means just by spending a little over two minutes every time I picked up my iPhone, it added up to 5 hours in one day.

Many have become anti-social and hide in their little world

We all run away to our little worlds, into our phones. Headphones in, head down. Asking a question or starting a small conversation is impossible when people make a clear signal they are doing their own thing and it is not because they do not want that contact, but merely because those little things affect how approachable we view the person.

I started more conversations and got involved in more things to satisfy my social interaction as I was not getting that ‘social’ dose through my phone. My friends still were able to reach me via phone call and text, so there was no ‘fear of not being in touch or missing out on an event’, I still saw my friends.

Our phones provide the social interactions that people crave, but as they invest in social interactions through technology, they do not get as much in real life. An article in the Daily Mail said that “addiction to smartphones and other devices may be considered hyper-social, not anti-social, the researchers say. But, the pace and scale at which they’re used could put the brain’s reward system in ‘overdrive,’ they warn.”

My phone did what it needed to do. It was just a phone. When sitting down to have a bite, I had to sit there and eat; not eat whilst scrolling through the crap and distracting myself with videos and emails. It was just the food and my thoughts. You finish faster and get on with your day.

A week later

At the end of the week, I had gained 40 hours to my week. Wow.

I became more present in everything and anything I was doing as there were no distractions available. I became more aware of how much time I had spent on my phone the week before, at moments when it really was unnecessary.

On the other hand, it was incredibly frustrating typing any text messages, especially because if you hold the delete button not even a second longer than needed, it would delete the entire message and there was no way back.

I could not search for stuff instantly which got a bit frustrating when there was no computer at hand to give me access to it. I would note down what I needed to do when the time came around to avoid forgetting and either memorise or note down all the addresses I would have to go to on that day before heading out the door.

I have my iPhone back with me now. Despite being an incredible thief of time and distraction device, when I am running errands or have something important happening that day, I will bring it with me. My Nokia still has my SimCard in, so at times I need to switch off and there is no real need for me to use my iPhone throughout the day, I will only grab my Nokia and walk out the door.

This is obviously not realistic for somebody whose business revolves around social media hence revolves around their smartphone. However, if being ON all the time is something you want to stop, you can control it. Have your iPhone as your work phone, allocate time to doing your job on it, times to work on it and others that allow you to leave it behind to focus on other things.

There are new alternatives being created for the sole purpose of letting go of any distractions when you want to. The Light Phone for example only allows you to make phone calls. It has your phone number on it when you decide to leave the house you can still make and receive phone calls.

We may notice the effects that phones have on us, our happiness, mental health and productivity. This is possible because many of us grew up without it, and only got a smartphone of such around the age of fourteen or fifteen.

But what about the younger generation who are playing on iPads from one-year-old? How will they view the time spent behind screens?

We have to be an example for them, and an example for our kids. But the change comes from us, the change comes from you. What are you going to do?

 

 

 

*Statistics collected from 50 London College of Communication students (25 male and female)


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