“Technology has changed our behavior drastically, and yet we are still humans—social beings who crave connection and affection, who eat, sleep, laugh, cry, and love.”
While technology has offered the opportunity to connect with people across time and distance, that has often happened at the expense of connecting to the people around us. With the average person now spending 11 hours a day on screens, including 3.25 hours a day on smartphones, many of us feel in our hearts that something isn’t right.
A smartphone is a tool, not a person—we all know that. And yet, we’re only spending 34 minutes a day with our families. This adds up to just 8.6 days a year spent with our loved ones compared to 50 days a year on our phones.
Technology has changed our behavior drastically, and yet we are still humans—social beings who crave connection and affection, who eat, sleep, laugh, cry, and love. Time spent on screens can be time spent taking away from our very essence as humans.
A whopping 71 percent of Americans sleep with our smartphones—and 3 percent of us sleep holding our phones in our hands! A third of us think of our phones first thing when we wake up, compared to only 10 percent of us who think of our significant others. Almost half of us reported that we “couldn’t live without” our devices. Sixteen million Americans say that they fear smartphone theft more than having their identity stolen. When we value our phone over our identity, I think we can all agree that our priorities are in twist.
There is often a big gap, though, between knowing we want to use technology more mindfully, and knowing how to do just that. Here are some ways to break the cycle of addition to our devices and bring back intention and thoughtfulness into your technology use:
1. Turn off all notifications that aren’t from a human being in real time.
This is a vital step for stopping the cycle. Text messages and phone calls are okay, but all app and news notifications are out. App notifications, after all, are simply advertisements trying to get you to open up an app, which might be in the business’ best interest, but it is rarely in yours.
2. Put your phone into greyscale mode.
While it will still function just the same, putting your phone into greyscale mode makes many of the things we do on our phone much less interesting—and thus much less tempting. If you don’t want to leave your phone in greyscale mode all the time, you can do it occasionally. I have a keyboard shortcut set up so that I can easily put my screen into this mode if I’m having trouble putting my phone down.
3. Don’t do anything on your phone that you can do on your computer instead (especially social media.)
This is a wonderful way to cut back on things like social media usage without forcing it: when we limit things like reading news and scrolling our social feeds to our computers, we will naturally spend less time doing them. It will also limit this behavior to just one spot, rather than, well, everywhere.
4. Get your phone out of the bedroom.
Get an alarm clock, if you don’t already have one, and charge your phone in another room at night. If you truly feel like you need to have it in the bedroom with you when you sleep, put it into Do Not Disturb mode (this way your important contacts can get through in an emergency) and plug it in across the room and away from your bed. It’s key to have it out of reaching distance, so that there is effort between you and the temptation. (And in case it has to be said: Your phone doesn’t belong in your bathroom, either.)
5. Commit to screen-free time once a week.
For many of us, our brains have become so used to having our phones as constant companions (more than 2/3 of us are sleeping with them, after all) that we can’t imagine even taking a walk without them. Commit to spending some time once a week—even an hour once a week is a great idea—with no technology at all. No TV, no ebook reader, no computer, and no phone. (Seriously, no phone; turn it off and put it in a drawer.) This time helps our brains remember that we can be okay without our devices, which begins to take some of the power away from the addictive cycle.
6. Clear out your home screen.
Use out of sight, out of mind to your advantage, and clear out your home screen. Hide apps that tend to tempt you in folders and several pages over, and limit what’s on your home screen to only things that serve you (such as, perhaps, calculators, meditation apps, or timers.)
Keep in mind that if a product or service is free, that means that you are the product—your personal data, your time, or your private life. And many technology businesses are built around trying to get as much of you as possible; this is why they do everything they can to manipulate you into interacting with them more and more.
Many of these techniques work because they tackle the truth head on: technology is intentionally designed to be addictive. There are specific design, anti-patterns, that are used to keep you coming back for more—things like streaks, badges, countdowns, endless scroll, and auto-play. If you’re feeling a little addicted to your phone, it’s not your fault, and it’s not some kind of a personal character flaw. But it is your responsibility.
There is no need to do all of these things at once; cold turkey rarely works. But by beginning to bring intentionality and thoughtfulness into your interactions with technology, you can become an increasingly more mindful user of technology–and bring human connection to the forefront of your life once again.
May your technology interactions be mindful and fulfilling, around the holidays and all year long.
You can also build intimacy with technology.