I was recently contacted out of the blue by a young man from Chicago named Scotty.
He explained he is a student who has struggled heavily with bad phone habits. He then confessed he had overcome this tech addiction, which caught my attention immediately.
Scotty had come across my NGO JustSociale’s social media content because we are both on a mission to actively encourage our communities to take time to ‘unplug’ on a regular basis.
Scotty went on to share that when he found control over his habits he felt like a different person. He had more energy, picked up new passions (such as piano and coding), and even made more friends.
Scotty has now developed an app called Ludite to help other people experience the freedom he has felt.
Ludite is, effectively, anti-technology technology, which Scotty explained “works by inverting social media to incentivise people to put their phone down … like a nicotine patch for your phone”.
Reflecting on my conversation with Scotty got me thinking, how many of us are indeed addicted to our phones?
According to a Sydney Morning Herald article, published in response to Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma, some Australian teens are now so terrified of the control that social media platforms have over them that they want to throw their phone in the bin.
This doesn’t surprise me, because according to research conducted by Sensis, more than a third of people — 35% — now access social media more than five times per day. And among 18–29-year-olds, 89% check-in at least once per day.
And when it comes to the evidence that social media addiction is real, Sensis has also reported that 15% of Australians have felt anxious when unable to access their social media accounts, and this number is significantly higher among 18–29-year-olds (37%).
Additionally, one-in-three people have felt excited when their post has received more likes on social media than usual.
The number doubles among 18–29-year-olds, where six in 10 (63%) have felt this way.
And I’ll confess, I too am guilty as (technologically) charged.
I am someone who finds it hard to not cling to my phone every day.
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If I’ve got a spare 5 minutes on the train? I’ll check my phone.
If I’m waiting for a meeting to start? I’ll check my phone.
I’m even guilty of checking my phone while on calls, putting people on speaker so I can check my calendar and other apps at the same time.
I do, however, actively practice what I preach, by dedicating one day a week (self-care Sunday) to unplugging, or to doing my best to leave my phone alone for most of the day.
So, if like Scotty or I, you’re concerned about your phone dependency, fear not, there are a number of ways to cut down on your phone time and take control of your tech use.
1. Turn off push notifications
An incredibly simple way to cut down on distractions is to turn off push notifications for as many apps as you can.
I personally have all of my notifications switched off, which means I only check my apps when I deliberately decide to do so.
2. Use a timer
If you are struggling with time management, one of the best things you can do is to use a timer.
It’s also helpful to take note of your daily and weekly screen time use to ensure you keep it within your control, which most smartphones now enable you to do.
3. Time out
Set aside some time to check your device and the apps you use most.
I only check my social media apps in the morning on my way to work, on occasions when I have a spare 5 minutes to be productive and want to check on news or updates, such as when I’m on public transport, and in the evening when I finish work.
Once you’ve done what you have set out to do, log off again.
4. Spring-clean your phone
Take distracting apps off your home screen. A lot of our phone usage is unconscious behaviour — such as when we shift from Facebook to Instagram, to checking the weather, to emails and then texts.
If you have to specifically seek out an app to use it, you are more likely to cut down on the accidental time-sucks that happen when you tap around on your phone.
My core apps are those that provide me with news, my calendar, social networking sites that I use frequently (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), my banking apps and music platforms.
If I haven’t used an app in the last month, I delete it.
In a world where we rely on our phones for directions, medication reminders, to keep in touch with our partners, children and parents, and for some, to make a living, chucking away our phones isn’t really an option.
However, finding balance and forming micro habits to become self-empowered and overcome device dependency is!