This post was inspired by this Youtube video posted two weeks ago where Casey Neistat talks about how much he uses social media and how distractive this habit is. He also talks about the possible mental health implications of looking at other people’s lives for hours a day, judging your life against other random people’s lives (edited and filtered version of random people’s lives) and being drip fed other people’s opinions.
Since last autumn it’s possible to monitor your phone usage on an iPhone. Until now I’ve been largely ignoring the pop up messages but last week I finally decided to face the truth! And the truth wasn’t pretty:
I spend 4 hours 17 minutes per day using my phone!
That’s over 30 hours a week!
That’s like a part-time job spent mindlessly scrolling and googling random stuff!
This includes around 9 hours 32 minutes a week on social media.
Imagine what exciting things I could do and how much more successful I could be if I just freed up all this time. I could invest more time into growing this blog, put more effort into my grad school assignments to up my grades or spend more time hanging out with friends.
So last week I set myself a challenge of staying off social media for whole 7 days.
I knew I couldn’t just go cold turkey - the pull of social media is way too strong! I needed to find an app to help me (See the irony here? I need an app to make me stop using apps - what has the world come to?).
I decided to kick off the week by trying out FlipD app. I knew that simply a Mindful Moment setting wouldn’t work as it relies purely on your self control and will power. If I was going to do this I had to do this properly and go straight in for a full 8 hour lock. In this mode the app hides all non-essential apps from view for a specified amount of time. In addition to all social media, it also decided that I didn’t need Spotify, Lightroom or even Safari browser! For most of the day I was allowed pretty much only calls, texts and my emails.
While this is ok for a day, there’s obviously no way I could use this app regularly without having any control as to which apps to restrict.
I thought I’d really struggle with limited access to social media and the Internet but actually it wasn’t too bad. I still kept unlocking my phone every now and then out of habit but the only time I really missed Safari was when I popped in to TK Maxx at lunch and wanted to check how much of a bargain the perfumed Miller Harris diffuser I saw really was.
The only other thing I found annoying was that the app insisted on messing up the order my apps are arranged on the screen instead insisting on putting them back in alphabetical order.
Next I decided to check out the capabilities of the in-built app restriction setting called Downtime available inside Screen Time on my iPhone 7. This is more flexible as it allows you to set a time limit on specific apps or lock a bunch of apps (the list is totally customisable) for a particular time period. So far so good.
The issue is (unlike in Flipd) that once you set it up you’re not completely locked out of the apps. You can easily disable the lock at any time in the Settings or ignore the restriction on a specific app by tapping Ignore Limit after opening an app. This basically meant that even though I did notice I checked my phone a lot less, I just couldn’t help myself and kept peeking at my social media accounts throughout the day.
So while I really like the flexibility of Downtime, it’s not really much help for people like me who don’t have much self control.
Flora is a free focus timer app that grows a virtual trees on your screen while you keep your hands off your phone. But if you dare to exit the app to look at other stuff on your phone the tree dies. There are no hard locks here either though and the app works by incentivising you to achieve a goal.
If you need something stronger than just seeing your virtual tree blossom to stop you from using your phone, you can bet actual money on achieving your goal. You choose an amount and, if you fail, the app uses the money to plant a real tree in Africa or East Asia. Or you can opt for a regular subscription instead and the money you pay will be used to plant a tree every time you reach a goal. So basically you can curb your social media use and do a good deed for the environment at the same time - what’s not to like?
The gamification definitely works and I loved the excitement of seeing my trees grow but I was still checking my social media in between sessions.
At the end of the week I decided to try one more app - DinnerMode. This free app is designed mostly to make you put your phone away at a table and enjoy meal times with your family and friends. It’s super simple and you don’t have to register or set up an account, you simply choose an amount of time you would like (options are 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 1 hour) and then literally step away from your phone.
If you cave in and pick up your phone (you don’t even have to unlock it) the app lets you know that you failed the challenge. So you better not touch your phone at all and go enjoy spending time with your friends. The app also only works if you place your phone face down on a flat surface such as a desk, it doesn’t register if you dump it in your handbag (I learned the hard way).
While it’s not as sophisticated as the other options I’ve tried, I really liked this app and it works very well to encourage you to forget about your phone complete for a short period of time such as dinner with your family or play time with your child. You don’t only refrain from using social media but also from texting and taking calls so you can give your undivided attention to the people you’re with.
Not using my phone was so much harder than I expected. While I managed to cut my social media use by over 30% I still unlocked my phone on average 70 times a day! Wow! It just shows how strong the compulsion to stay connected is and how hard it is to break a habit so deeply ingrained in your brain.
As a young professional living in London I rely on my phone to figure out how to get to places, discover new places to visit and things to do, make event and restaurant bookings, read the news, date and make arrangements to hang out with friends. Even my grad school has its own app where you can read and download lectures, interact with tutors and check your grades. This is what modern city life looks like.
But I also spend an awfully large chunk of my week just mindlessly looking at stuff, liking pictures of other people’s breakfast and checking what people I’ve not spoken to for 20 years are up to. This kind of thing isn’t heatlhy and can leave you feeling inadequate or overly critical towards yourself. Staying off social media for a week made me more aware of it and I’ve been more conscious and purposeful in how I spend my time since.
Can you relate? Have you used any of those apps? What’s your relationship with social media and your phone? Let me know in the comments!