For many of us, the first thing we wake up to and the last thing we see before we sleep is our cell phone.Technology is a means of several of our day-to-day tasks and interactions, thus deeply integrating itself into the lives of many. I can safely say technology has been my best friend through this period of shelter-in-place. From checking my email first thing in the morning, to scrolling through my social media feed in the afternoon, to ending the day with my latest Netflix favorite, my phone or laptop always demands my attention. Technology’s role has even expanded beyond recreation and is an essential tool for completing my tasks— whether it’s attending meetings and classes via Zoom, typing out my assignments, or using my editing software to meet my weekly quota of video postings. However, both despite and because of modern technology’s omnipresence, it is increasingly important to schedule time away from our screens and take a break from the virtual world in order to protect our mental and physical health.
Distancing Myself from Technology
After being unpleasantly surprised by the amount of screen-time I’ve spent on my phone (which was over four hours, according to an app I installed called StayFree), I took it upon myself to immediately schedule time away from screen and strictly minimize my mindless scrolling to one hour (for recreational purposes, excluding my use of screen time to accomplish my tasks for the day). For the next week, I not only enforced an upper limit of an hour of phone activity, but also scheduled technology-free time in which I tried to interact more with my present world. Now I will discuss some of the positive benefits I discovered as a result of this. First and foremost, I felt like a small weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I could go about each day knowing that I wouldn’t waste any more time crouched over a small screen, consuming information that would be forgotten within the hour. I consumed less and created more. As I mentioned earlier, reducing my phone time to one hour cleared my schedule and motivated me to incorporate all sorts of new activities into my day. These little hobbies, such as trying new recipes, skateboarding, and journaling gave me joy and helped me balance my day. Simply put, I felt happier. I experienced a greater level of self-awareness and awareness of my surroundings because I had more time to be present and keep my mind in the moment instead of someplace else (as social media tends to enable). Along with less time spent looking into the lives of others in my feed and more time dedicated towards myself, I felt liberated from certain unhealthy emotions that had become the norm. For example, the feeling that my own life was not as interesting as the ones portrayed on Instagram.
Understanding my Tendencies
Early on in the week, I realized it was a habit, almost like muscle memory, to pick up my cell phone whenever I sat down. And not for any specific purpose either; I wasn’t intentionally reaching for my phone, not so I could Google something or send out a text. It was just a habit for me that I developed over the years. It seemed that my mind had correlated downtime with scrolling through my phone, similar to the way I correlated waking up in the mornings to reaching for my fully charged phone. Throughout the week, I spent a lot more time outdoors, and this alone opened my life up to a multitude of unrealized benefits. The extra time I created by distancing myself from technology surprised me, enabling me to pick up hobbies that I previously dismissed by the excuse of “not having enough time.” By the end of the week, I was by no means a changed person, but I did notice a few differences in my mindset, emotions, and productivity. The visual below shows how picking your phone can set off a chain reaction of multiple increments of screen time that heavily outlast one single sitting of screen time. A single pick up can set off a chain reaction:
Establishing Healthy Boundaries Moving Forward
Although I originally intended for this to be a week long challenge, I am continuing to limit my screen time and am continuing to experience the benefits. With the growth of technology in day to day life, what were once in-person transactions are now conducted through our devices. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize the need for and to actively make time to experience and engage with the natural world around us. While roaming the internet may have integrated itself into our list daily activities, let this be a reminder that our lives aren't getting any longer, and that several of our moments are here waiting to be experienced.
Helpful Tips for Reducing Screen Time
According to a 2019 study conducted by eMarketer, the average person in the United States spends nearly 3 hours a day on their cell phones. With this statistic, as well as all our attachments to the world within our screens, cutting our screen time into a third of what we are used to may seem like a daunting task. There are many helpful tips however, that helped me stick to my one-hour limit of screen time.
1. Get help through phone apps:
There are several free apps and services that can assist you by tracking your time spent as well as setting limits on specific apps—the one I used was called StayFree, but there are several other free apps out there.
2. Put Tech away when you Eat
Another helpful tip is to cut out the habit of eating in front of the screen. Over the past year, I've become increasingly used to squeezing in my meals into a work session or pairing it with an episode of a T.V. series, but there are several reasons why this isn't good for you're health. Cutting out this habit alone greatly reduced my screen time. I also got used to creating physical distance from my tech, powering them off and placing them in a different room to reduce my temptation.
3. Adjust Your Phone Settings
Another tip to ease the temptation of checking your phone is to disable all unimportant and unnecessary notifications— you'll still be able to check them later if not on the spot!