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Breaking Phone Addictions
By Yifei F on December 24, 2023
I love my phone—and for good reason. I can do all sorts of wonderful things with it - making calls, sending and receiving messages instantly, searching up answers on the go, staying connected with hundreds of friends and friends of friends, and accessing thousands of videos by talented creators online. The benefits of having a digital world in our pockets are captured quite neatly with Meta’s mission statement: “giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” The humanitarian vision of connecting millions and fostering a place where people can share ideas and flourish ultimately drives the digital ecosystem.
I should note, however, that I was also addicted to my phone. We access so much online information through our phones that smartphone usage is almost synonymous with social media and the internet. To me and many others, it seems inconceivable and absurd to go a week without our phones, or even a day away from our screens seems abnormal.
Carrying our phones in our pockets and checking them at a moment’s notice has become so normalized that we don’t notice how weird it is. I’m guilty of weekly screen time averages of five hours and higher, two hours spent on Instagram every day scrolling through the abyss of digital content, another hour spent on YouTube watching top ten compilations.
If I were to ask myself what I truly wanted to be doing, I would not be spending five hours of my life glued to my phone every day. However, knowing that we want to spend less time on our phones doesn’t magically break phone addiction. I’ve struggled with it, and maybe you have too. It’s crucial to understand why we become addicted to our phones and how we can take tangible steps to reclaim our time.
Why We Love Our Phones
Humans are naturally social creatures. Ancient hunter-gatherers had to form tight social groups to stay alive, which meant they were always on the lookout for social cues and information. This may sound familiar. The modern term is called FOMO, or the fear of missing out. Some people can’t bear the thought of separating from their phones because they’re afraid they’ll miss out on something important.
Humans also crave social validation as a means of self-esteem and identity. Social media can be addicting because it provides the perfect place to show off our lifestyle and receive praise.
We are hooked to our phones because we want to check new messages we might have missed, the latest post by one of our friends or a celebrity, or how many likes and comments our post received. Coupled with the human desire for novelty, the anticipation of notifications makes us anxious. We are left hanging, and it is difficult to resist the urge to check one more time to see if anything new has popped up.
The act of checking our phones eventually becomes a habit, and unbeknownst to us, we may find ourselves on our phones without even realizing it. It becomes something we do unconsciously and unintentionally.
However, we are not weak-willed. Instead, social media companies design their apps in such a way that reinforces cravings for social validation and novelty. Notifications, likes, comments, personalized feeds—these are all methods to exploit us. Phones are the device through which all of this is instantly accessed.
A Faulty Replacement
One of the reasons we use our phones is to stay in contact with friends, through instant messaging or social media posts. We are naturally social, so it’s only natural that we should spend time texting friends or browsing their posts. However, our brains can handle so much more. We’re capable of reading and understanding complex human emotions; to reduce our communication to a “like” on social media is borderline offensive. We make the mistake of replacing conversation with connection.
When someone spends more time on social media, they tend to spend less time in person with friends. Although companies claim that their apps keep people closely connected, it falls short of a real conversation. In the first place, humans were not designed to maintain close relationships with hundreds of people. Social media and smartphone usage are contradictory in that we can feel more isolated the more digitally connected we are.
At the same time, constant connection strips us of alone time. During long walks, warm showers, and late nights awake because we can’t sleep, we are alone with our thoughts. This is when our minds produce ideas, when we can speak honestly with ourselves. We lose our solitude with the digital hum always buzzing in the background.
We should aim to have both deep, meaningful conversations with people and periods of time alone with our thoughts, not perpetually plugged into our phones. That is a faulty replacement for both meaningful conversation and solitude.
I love my phone, but sometimes the best thing to do when you love someone (or something) is to let them go. As cheesy and stupid as that sounds, we can live without phones. We shouldn't abandon them entirely; we should simply redefine our relationship with them. Here are some actionable steps you can take to move away from your phone and reclaim your time:
1. Set a schedule. You can use different apps during specific set times throughout the day or week to ensure you’re not constantly checking your phone. You can rest assured that you’ll have ample time later to catch up on everything. The Do Not Disturb feature on most phones works wonders for this.
2. Delete social media from your phone. You can still access apps like Facebook and Instagram on a computer. If those apps are no longer on your phone, you won’t be tempted to compulsively check the latest posts and can avoid falling into the rabbit hole of mindless scrolling.
3. Leave your phone at home. Sometimes, we need our phones, and that’s okay! In many cases, however, we can leave our phones at home for an hour or two. Or, for example, if we’re at school, we can at least put our phones in our backpacks instead of our pockets, which makes it harder to whip out our phones whenever we feel the urge.
4. Go for a long walk. Famous thinkers like Henry David Thoreau, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin were frequent walkers. Walking is a great time to disconnect and enjoy the present moment.
5. Set up a time to meet with a friend (or friends). Now instant messaging comes in handy. You can use your phone to set up a time to hang out with a friend, or at least have a longer conversation over voice or video call. Spending quality time with them will ultimately be more meaningful than commenting on their latest post.
It’s important to realize the benefits of technology, but we must also acknowledge the drawbacks of constant digital connection. We should only use smartphones (and technology in general) when they offer significant benefits, and they should not be a substitute for real conversation. It’s perfectly fine to use our phones for urgent calls or social media during set times throughout the week—so long as it’s intentional and not too time-consuming.
If you’d like to use technology with a set schedule to connect with peers in a more impactful way, be sure to check out schoolhouse.world for free online tutoring and online community events!