I doubt the title of this post is of any surprise to you.
Furthermore, I bet very few of you disagree.
In our hearts, we know this to be true. I’d wager that many of us have set previous intentions to reduce our screen time in some way, shape, or form. Whether that be Netlfix, social media apps, or our phones in general.
But as someone who has tried myself to cut back, (see my previous post about this here) I know it’s darn hard to stick to, and so so easy to slide back into old habits when we do try.
For what it’s worth, the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m sharing this on a digital / social platform and you’re more than likely reading from your smartphone as we speak. The idea isn’t to boycott technology altogether, but rather to be much more intentional with how we’re using it.
With this in mind, I’ve recently been listening to the audiobook Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, which delves deep into this topic.
Here are two key concepts I’ve taken away thus far:
Since the advent of the smartphone we’ve essentially lost “solitude”. Solitude, as per the book, refers to quiet time for our brains without external input or background stimuli. No music, no screen, no conversation. Just our own thoughts.
This mental downtime is critical for things like reflection, original thought, and creativity.
Where once upon a time it wasn’t that hard to come by, we are now rarely without background stimuli. When we’re waiting in line at the grocery store we pull out our phones and check email. While taking a walk we pop in our earbuds and listen to a podcast, etc.
It’s not to say that multitasking in this way isn’t beneficial. In many cases it can be a useful way to kill two birds with one stone, as they say. It’s moreso that we are SO connected that our brains never get a chance to shut off or just meander.
Likewise, and the second key thing I’ve taken from his writing – social media sites and apps aren’t inherently bad. In fact, some research suggests that depending on how they are used, social media tools can actually increase our happiness.
The problem ensues when digital forms of connection (eg. texting, emailing, posting, hitting “like”) replace in-person connection (including actual telephone or video-based conversation). It’s the resulting decline in this more personal type of connection that tends to be detrimental to our mental health and overall wellbeing.
Every year, the Canadian Medical Association Journal publishes a list of their top 25 most-read articles from the previous year. In 2020, “Smartphones, social media use and youth mental health” made number four on the list. It comes as no surprise that the article associates smartphone and social media use with an increased prevalence of depression and anxiety among adolescents.
Also, if current world events haven’t highlighted the importance of true, honest-to-goodness social connection, I don’t know what will!
Okay, so we know we probably need to cut back on the incessant phone-checking and scrolling, but how?
This is so much easier said than done. I get it. Especially when there are many genuinely useful tools on said devices.
At the moment my baby tracker (for feeding and sleeping times) and my video baby monitor are both on my smartphone. Not to mention that in the middle of a lockdown, and without a landline, it’s my main tool for connecting with my friends and family.
So the ‘put it in a drawer and forget about it’ or ‘plug it in in another room’ tactics that may have worked for me in past aren’t as feasible. Though these might be great options for you depending on your current season of life.
Instead, I’m turning toward some built in technologies to help me curb my use. That is, trying to make the tech work FOR me, and not the other way around.
A couple of relatively quick options, all available within the settings on most smartphones are:
- Turn off your notifications. This is probably the simplest and most commonly cited method out there but if you haven’t done it yet, DO IT!
- Delete your social media apps altogether. Even better than turning off notifications is getting the stinkin’ icon right off your screen. You can still access your accounts through your web browser, but the extra steps involved might just be enough to stop you from mindlessly checking.
- Turn your screen from full colour to grayscale. This automatically makes it less enticing to pick up and less exciting to continue scrolling, especially in highly visual apps like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
- Set time limits for your apps. You can either set total time limits (say max 2 hours in a 24 hour period), or restrict access during certain hours of the day (for example, 9 pm to 9 am). The functionality will generally still let you access the app if you choose to, but you have to agree to override the rule, which can help you “break the twitch”.
- Finally, though this isn’t a techy solution, try attaching your app use to other activities. For instance, set yourself a rule that you can only stream Netflix with other people. Or you can only watch Youtube videos while doing the dishes, or walking on the treadmill. Not only does this trick help limit your screen time but it can also make those other tasks more enjoyable and more likely to get done. It’s a win-win!
All of this takes practice.
If you’re able to set some of these limits and stick to them indefinitely you are a rare breed my friend! Most of us will inevitably slip up and feel old habits creeping back in.
But this is one area where all-or-none thinking is not helpful, and perfection truly is the enemy of progress. If I want to set a good example for my little one going forward, I know I will have to continually re-evaluate how intentional I’m being with my screen use.
I’d love for you to join me in this!
Let’s disconnect more often in order to TRULY CONNECT more.