I woke up recently to a realization. I am addicted to my iPhone. It’s as if I’m addicted to alcohol, sugar, heroine or cocaine. It’s in my hand within seconds of waking. I carry it with me everywhere and worry when the battery life is getting low as if it were a small child that hasn’t been fed in days. My father has been warning me of it for some time now, but I always took it with a grain of salt (in other words, I ignored him).
Well, I was wrong to do so. Now, the journey to break my addiction is going to be ten times as hard because I’m so far down the road.
It’s not entirely my fault, of course. Our smartphones (and especially the apps we download onto them) are engineered to be addictive. They have become virtual ATMs for technology companies, who make money by capturing our most valuable assets (our time and attention) and auctioning them off to people who want to sell us things. Still, I need to take responsibility for the fact that spending an average of more than 4 hours per day (I have an app that tracks my screentime) staring at my smartphone is, in a phrase, “not good.”
One of the biggest problems with my addiction is how it warps my perception of time. I woke up this morning, logged onto Instagram and spent 30 minutes browsing photos and it all passed in the blink of an eye. I had the experience of “resurfacing” out into the real world as I changed my focus from my glowing phone screen and realized that the clock had gone from 6:10 a.m. to 6:40 a.m. without my even realizing it. Technology zones us out. For me, it shuts my brain off so that even when I feel like I’m doing things I’m not really things.
30 minutes of my life disappeared into a black hole this morning, and it honestly frightens me. In the wake of that experience, a question grew in my mind—“What is the minimum amount of time I could spend on my phone in a day?” Well, hypothetically the answer would be “zero time”, and I would turn my phone off for the entire day and go live like Tarzan and be happy in the African jungle ruling over a tribe of apes. Realistically, that isn’t quite so possible.
One of my businesses, for example, is a digital marketing consulting agency, which means that I have to spend at least some of my time every day on social media creating content, posting, farming engagement, networking with other businesses and so on. I also have friends who I have ongoing text conversations with on a daily basis and if I just suddenly shut them out I wouldn’t want them to worry. Of course, my addicted brain is not on my team in this fight. It’s just looking for reasons to keep me on my phone, which is why it’s so easy to come up with reasons to keep my phone on, near me, and sucking away my brain like an illithid in the Underdark.
In any event, if I want to break my addiction (which I do, because realizing that I’m living less than half of my life in the real world is jarring and scary) and I want to do it in a way that is mathematical and long-lasting (which I do because I’m a data nerd and that’s how I approach self-improvement) I’ll have to break out some hypothetical calculations by running some imaginary time-management software.
Math time… Query: “What is the least amount of time I could spend on my phone today?”
Calculating… Allocating time to business…
45 minutes to create quality content for social media marketing campaigns….1 hour to farming engagement…30 minutes to networking with other businesses… Allocating time to pleasure… 1 hour texting friends…30 minutes of mindless browsing… Totaling… 3 hours 45 minutes. Minimum.
If I’m awake for a total of 16 hours (24 hours in a day minus 8 hours of sleep), that means that I will spend a MINIMUM of 23 percent on my phone. Probably more, because my estimates were on the conservative side of realistic. Not very encouraging. My current goal is “No more than 15 percent of my waking hours is spent on my smartphone,” which totals to around 2 hours 25 minutes. So somewhere I need to shave off more than an hour of phone time. Considering that I’ve been spending more than 8 hours on my phone each day in the last week (what with social media, TV-watching and reading Kindle ebooks), this will be a trial by fire.
Let’s run another program.
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Scraping lifestyle for data…Reallocating time from device to outside activities… Purchase software to automate engagement farming (saves 30 minutes)… Make friends aware of my goal and spend time in person instead of texting (saves 30 minutes)… Eliminate mindless browsing (saves 30 minutes)… Total savings: 1 hour 30 minutes. New daily phone time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
In the background, as I battle my addiction, I’ll be running some other experiments on my iDevice. Experiment: To reduce clutter on my phone (it’s currently filled with apps I don’t use), I will move all of my apps into an “unused” folder. If I use an app between now and next week I will move it out of that folder and onto my home screen. Otherwise, at the end of that time, I’ll delete it.
Experiment: I will turn my phone off until I have an express purpose to use it.
Experiment: I will not keep my phone on me but in another room to make it easier not to check it every 30 seconds.
Breaking any addiction is difficult. I’ve never had any others, so I’m not sure, but I feel as though getting away from my smartphone will be especially hard because it’s not something I can just cut off cold turkey. To live in the modern world requires a connection to some sort of smart device. Weaning myself off of my iPhone is going to take some doing, but hopefully I can manage it. My goal, as ever, is to live life on my terms. Transforming my smartphone from a drug into a tool is just one step in that journey.
Jack Dolinar is a Trinity junior. His column runs on alternate Mondays.