For many of us, the first thing we do every morning is to scan our smartphone and check if we haven’t missed anything particularly vital or particularly titillating while we slept. While this may seem innocuous enough, it’s actually just one more sign that we’re spending too much time screen-grazing and dissociating ourselves from what is actually going on around us.
This is especially the case when it comes to social media, a digital distraction that is notoriously addictive. As well as the time it steals from us, it can also affect us in many other insidious ways, such as leaving us prone to cyberbullying, body image issues, depression or exposure to deliberate and sustained misinformation.
While this has, arguably, been something of a sustained problem for quite some time now, belatedly, people are beginning to recognise just how pernicious an issue screen addiction really is. The trouble is, identifying there’s a problem is way less than half the battle. The truly tricky bit is actually doing something about it.
As with many other addictions – whether those related to alcohol, non-prescription pharmaceuticals, shopping, big cakes or serial illicit sexual encounters – going cellphone cold turkey is not necessarily something best undertaken unsupported. Indeed, if you’re serious about digital detoxing, there are specialist agencies you can connect to and even phone-free boot camps you can sign up for.
Should you, however, deem your own phone fixation something you have sufficient steely resolve and iron will to tackle alone (and free of charge), there are a number of relatively straightforward steps you can take to put yourself well on the road to handset-free heaven.
Don’t take your phone to bed
According to science, Perusing your phone late at night adversely affects sleeping patterns, keeping you awake longer and making it difficult for you to properly relax. Staring at a screen while lying down is also bad for your eyesight with this close exposure to blue light both potentially retina damaging and apt to contribute to the formation of cataracts. In order to counter the worst effects, make sure you stash your digital device of choice away at least an hour before bedtime. Then use the time you gain to relax, meditate or read a book. In extremis, you could even talk to your partner. In-person that is. Not via WhatsApp.
Replace your scrolling habit with something high brow
Most of us habitually scroll through our feeds as it doesn’t require much effort and there’s always the – usually vain – hope that something truly interesting is just one more swipe away. This, though, is really just your phone being a handy, pocket-sized thief of your time, with the endless trivia you are exposed to – the belligerent cat videos, the teasing but ultimately tedious promises of Hollywood insider scoops and the endlessly unfunny screeds of clearly forged wrong text responses – stopping you from doing something truly useful and productive with your spare moments. In truth, the opportunity cost of each baleful feline frown you download could be half a dozen words of Flemish that you will now never learn while every non-nugget of Tom Cruise trivia that trickles across your screen could have taken away the time you needed to master macramé at long last. “Is it worth the risk?” ask yourself.
Axe your apps
While it may seem like something of a drastic move to uninstall all those apps you’ve come to rely on – to incapacitate Instagram, wave goodbye to WeChat and permanently farewell to Facebook et al – it could be the decisive gesture you need to truly liberate yourself from all those mind-numbing mini-apps that see you too pre-occupied to engage with your family or anyone else you’ve accidentally ended up moving in with. All told, though, it’s probably best to temporarily disable them rather than permanently delete them. After all, you never know, real life just might not be your kind of thing.
Overcome the fear of FOMO
Our brains are very adept when it comes to fooling us in into believing that really exciting stuff is going on somewhere and, if we stay up to date with social media, we might not only get to find out, but we also might get invited along to participate. This is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and it’s one of the key things that keeps us in thrall to our digital devices night and day. The truth is though – and you have to convince yourself of this – there really is nothing exciting going on. None of your friends are actually having a better time than you. They’re all just ploughing through filtered photos on the ‘Gram and eating three-day-old pizza in their sweatpants. Same as you.
For untold millennia, personkind did perfectly well without Wi-Fi-enabled pocket pals that kept them in intimate contact with friends and family no matter how far distant they found themselves. Similarly, our resolutely analogue ancestors fared well enough without instant access to vast online repositories of knowledge, which, nowadays, equally allow us to bone up on the finer point of Sumatran architecture as well as to rapidly win or lose a bet as to which player in the English Premier League had the overall flattest forehead in the 2021-2022 season.
Rejecting the siren call of those small-screened seductresses that seek to sap our wills and keep us informed of events of global import is a challenge that we all need to gird ourselves to meet. Indeed, this battle against the mortifications of the megabyte world will never be truly won until each and every one of us is sat in the solitary splendour of our personal cave, insulated from contact with the contaminations of modern times and left only to wonder what to do when the last ember of our makeshift fire finally flickers out.
(Text By Zaira Abbas)